We know in principle that for optimum health we should be getting a *wide* range of vitamins and minerals through our lifestyle and diet. But sometimes it can be tricky, especially when it comes to Vitamin D - given that it's mainly derived from sunlight exposure (and, err, well... the clocks have now changed and the nights have well and truly drawn in).
According to Dr Michele Sadler, Nutritionist and Scientific Advisor to the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association, "an adequate supply of vitamin D, also known as the 'sunshine vitamin', is essential all year round to keep your body healthy."
"Not only is it good for bones and teeth, but research has shown that it also plays a role in the immune system."
In fact, medical experts rate vitamin D so highly for its immune system-boosting properties and other health benefits that - back in the height of Covid - Public Health England even changed its advice to recommend the public take 10 micrograms of the vitamin a day.
So, quick masterclass: Vitamin D is naturally produced in the body when the skin is exposed to UVB sunlight, but it doesn't work through glass - which means we need to look for other options. "Your body naturally produces vitamin D when it's directly exposed to sunlight containing ultraviolet B radiation. It’s important that everyone has daily exposure to sunlight outdoors, particularly during the spring and summer months, as ultraviolet B does not penetrate through glass," the nutritionist explains.
Frida Harju, the in-house nutritionist at leading health and fitness app, Lifesum also adds the further uses of Vitamin D, particularly that it "enhances the body's absorption of other vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and phosphate."
But, how can we guarantee a healthy dose all year round? While taking a supplement is one way to top up your intake and lounging in the sun (responsibly) is another, being conscious of your diet can also allow you to take some control in ensuring your bod has enough vitty D. Especially when you can't rely on spending much time outside...
What are vitamin D-rich foods?
"As there are only a handful of foods that contain significant amounts of vitamin D, it is difficult to get enough of it from your diet alone," says Dr Sadler. But that doesn't mean you can't give yourself a helping hand by focusing on the foods that will boost your vitamin D levels.
"Fatty fish is one of the richest natural food sources of vitamin D," advises the expert, who - alongside Harju - also suggests including the following foods in your diet wherever possible:
Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel
Salmon is the "top hitter for vitamin D," says Harju. (She recommends wild salmon, too, because of its higher levels of vitamin D than farmed salmon). According to the nutritionist, just half a fillet of salmon has over 1,000 IU of vitamin D, which is more than the daily recommended allowance for a person.
Plus, tinned fish, such as mackerel, tuna or sardines "contain over a quarter of the recommended amount."
Eggs (particularly egg yolks)
"Two large free-range eggs can hold about one-eighth of your recommended dose of vitamin D and also contain lots of other health benefits," says Harju.
Vitamin D2 enhanced mushrooms
"If you include a healthy portion of mushrooms to your meal you are looking at a significant amount of vitamin D," she advises.
"Milk or dairy that has been fortified with vitamin D" (which most types of cow's milk are) is another great source Harju says, before adding: "You can also buy yoghurts and other dairy products that have been fortified (usually whole milk not semi-skimmed)."
"Similarly to milk, cereals are often fortified with vitamin D, particularly ones aimed at children, but it does vary so be careful and make sure to read the label."
"One fifth of a block of raw tofu has 140 IU of vitamin D."
Frida reveals that one cup of fortified orange juice has more vitamin D than a cup of fortified milk. "But make sure to go for a freshly squeezed juice if you can, packaged ones can be full of additives and sugar!" she warns.
"Ricotta has more than five times the amount of vitamin D as other cheeses."
Other great vitamin D-rich foods include red meat, kidney and liver, and fortified fat spreads.
How much Vitamin D do we get from sunlight?
Getting outside for exercise, especially when the sun is shining is a good opportunity to top up vitamin D levels," notes Dr Sadler.
"Sunlight is most effective during late March to September for making vitamin D in the skin. Exposing the forearms, hands or lower legs to the sun, without sunscreen, for a short time between 11am and 3pm will help keep blood levels of vitamin D topped up," the expert says.
So lace up those trainers and get yourself out for a walk or a run - or if you're lucky enough to have a garden, try to exercise out there.
Sidenote: Don't now assume that wearing sunscreen is unnecessary altogether - it's still important to keep topping up throughout the day during the summer and winter, months whether it's cloudy or not. When it comes to the face especially, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests choosing sunscreens that advertise a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
Should you take a daily Vitamin D supplement?
Supplements can feel confusing; with so many offerings, what's necessary and what's not? But according to the nutritionist, where vitamin D is concerned, you're good to go with almost anything you can find. "There are a wide range of vitamin D supplements available including tablets and capsules, sprays, liquids, drops and gummies. Sources of vitamin D suitable for vegetarians and vegans are also available – look for vitamin D2," Dr Sadler says.
Alternatively, she advises that fish liver oil supplements such as cod liver oil are a good source, although the content can vary – so you're warned to check on the label. "Remember, to meet the government recommendation, you are aiming for supplement with 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily," she notes.
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