For Canadians, getting the right amount of vitamin D can be a challenge.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for human health. Without it, your body can’t properly absorb vital elements including calcium, magnesium, and phosphate. “The sunshine vitamin” is also a critical component of bone health, and a deficiency early in life can have a dramatic effect as one gets into old age. Recent studies have also linked vitamin D deficiency with medical conditions such as chronic depression and even the onset of winter colds.
Because vitamin D is so essential, the human body has evolved a unique way of sourcing it. Radiation from the sun triggers our bodies to manufacture it. Simply being out in the sun with exposed skin for a few minutes will promote healthy levels of vitamin D into our bodies.
The problem in countries like Canada is that we don’t get out in the sun much during the colder months. Also, the sun’s rays aren’t as powerful at higher latitudes, making it harder for people with darker skin to get a full dose of sunlight. Getting enough vitamin D from the sun can be a delicate balancing act, even in the summertime due to the elevated risk of skin cancer posed by too much sun exposure. Scientists recommend an exposure time of around 20 minutes to get a proper dose.
Healthy adults under the age of 50 need anywhere from 400 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D every day. If you’re over 50 or at risk for osteoporosis you should double that dose to around 800 to 2,000 IU. But what if you can’t expose yourself to regular sunlight?
Making sure you add vitamin D to your diet is important particularly between the months of October and April. The easiest way to do that is with foods fortified with vitamin D. In Canada, margarine, infant formula, cow’s milk and substitutes, formulated liquid diets, egg products, meal replacements and nutritional supplements are all required to be fortified with vitamin D. Butter substitutes, condensed milk and goat’s milk are also often fortified with vitamin D although not required by law.
Milk is a good daily dietary source of vitamin D. A one cup serving contains around 100 IU. But there are other food sources that are much higher in vitamin D content. Swordfish contains more than 750 IU per serving, while canned salmon contains over 400 IU. Fresh salmon and snapper are also high in the vitamin, while two egg yolks or a serving of canned tuna provides about one tenth of the daily requirement.
Good dietary choices are a good start, but getting the proper amount of vitamin D from dietary sources can be as challenging as getting it from the sun. That’s why health experts recommend that Canadian adults take a vitamin D supplement—specifically vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol on a daily basis throughout the year.
Cod liver oil is a good choice for anyone looking for a natural vitamin D supplement. Cod liver oil is packed with vitamin D—about 1,300 IU in a one-tablespoon dose. Most multivitamins and calcium supplements contain some vitamin D but the amounts vary. Due diligence is important. Read the label, check the dose, and make sure that you’re getting the right amount for your age and health situation. Taking care of your vitamin D needs today can have a significant impact on your bone health as you age.
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Author: Tom Mason is a freelance writer based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.