Vitamin D is a wonder vitamin, one that’s crucial for your body, helping it absorb calcium and maintain your bones. That’s not all it does, though – your muscles need it to move, your nerves need it to carry messages between your brain and other body parts, and your immune system needs it to fight off harmful germs. No wonder, then, a vitamin D deficiency can spell trouble for your overall health. Unfortunately, three-quarters of the US population is deficient in this vital vitamin. And vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in many problems we face today, from rickets and osteomalacia to infections, cardiovascular problems, and even cancer.1 So, what exactly can you do to up your vitamin levels?2
Get Some Sunshine Regularly
Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin for a reason! Getting out in the sun is a natural and easy way of boosting your vitamin D levels. Your body uses the sun’s ultraviolet B rays to make this vitamin. But do remember that your skin needs direct sun exposure for this. Indirect exposure, say by sitting at a window, doesn’t work because UVB rays can’t travel through glass.3
The amount of vitamin D that you’re able to produce also depends on other factors like your skin color, the part of the world that you live in, as well as the time that you get sun exposure. If you have pale skin, you’ll be able to make vitamin quicker than people with darker skin. This is because melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, also protects it from the damaging effects of the sun by blocking UVB rays from entering your skin. Also, when the rays of the sun enter the atmosphere at too slanted an angle, UVB rays are partly blocked and your skin can’t use them to make vitamin D. So the closer you live to the equator and closer it is to noon, the better the angle at which the sun’s rays are hitting the atmosphere – and the more the chances of vitamin D production when you’re out in the sun.
Since there are so many factors at play here, it can be a little complicated to decide how much sun exposure you need. Some experts suggest limiting sun exposure to half the time it takes for your skin to begin burning. But as a rule of thumb, look to spend 15–30 minutes between 10 am and 3 pm in the sun – without sunscreen on. But it’s also important to avoid overexposure and the resultant risk of skin cancer. Remember, you don’t need to be tanned to produce vitamin D; getting sunburnt is a definite no-no as well.4
Eat Vitamin D-Rich Foods
Food is usually a good source for most of our nutritional needs. However, since very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, it’s practically quite difficult to fulfill your vitamin D requirements through just food. Even the ones with vitamin D have small quantities of it. Having said that, you can reinforce the time spent in the sun with some vitamin D-rich foods as well. Here are a few foods that you can incorporate into your daily meals:
Fatty fish are good food sources of vitamin D. About 3 ounces of cooked swordfish contains 566 IU of this nutrient, while the same quantity of salmon contains 447 IU. Tuna has a slightly lower amount of 154 IU for 3 ounces. If you’re looking for a comparatively rich source of vitamin D, check out cod liver oil – one tablespoon of it contains a whopping 1,360 IU.5
Beef liver is another food that contains vitamin D, with 3 cooked ounces of it containing 42 IU.
Eggs can also give you some vitamin D. One large egg contains about 41 IU of vitamin D. But do keep in mind that the vitamin D in eggs come from the yolk, so don’t ditch it for an egg-whites-only omelet!
Mushrooms like chanterelles and morels offer some vitamin D. Mushrooms which have been exposed to ultraviolet rays in order to enhance their vitamin D content are also sold in stores.6
Since there are few natural dietary sources of vitamin D, fortified foods supply most of the vitamin D content in a typical American diet. Almost all milk producers in the United States fortify milk with 400 IU of this vitamin per quart. And infant formula is required to be fortified by law. Other foods like breakfast cereals, yogurt, orange juice, and margarine may also be fortified. Check the label to find out if the brand that you use is fortified with vitamin D. 7
Take Supplements If You Have A Deficiency
As we just saw, you may not be able to get enough vitamin D through your food alone. So supplements are a good and often essential way of addressing a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is available in 2 forms as supplements – ergocalciferol (D2) and cholecalciferol (D3). Both of these are effective at increasing levels of vitamin D in your blood. But doctors prefer D3 as this is the kind that your body naturally makes from sunlight. Do follow your doctor’s instructions when it comes to taking supplements as excessive amounts of vitamin D can be harmful too.
Where babies are concerned, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends supplements of 400 IU of vitamin D a day till they start consuming at least 1,000 mL of milk or infant formula fortified with vitamin D daily. This is because breastmilk doesn’t supply enough vitamin D to meet your baby’s needs. Also, since babies have delicate skins, too much sun exposure is not recommended for them. Do speak with your pediatrician about this.
You Need 400–800 IU Of Vitamin D Daily Depending On Age
The average recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 400 IU from birth till 12 months, 800 IU for those who are 71 years of age or older, and 600 IU for all others. But some groups may be at particular risk of not getting enough vitamin D and developing a deficiency. These include:
- Elderly individuals since their skin tends to lose efficiency in making vitamin D.
- Dark-skinned people since they may not be able to make enough vitamin D from sunlight.
- People with disorders like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease since their bodies can’t process fat normally and vitamin D requires fat for its absorption.
- Obese people since body fat can bind to vitamin D, leading to low levels of this vitamin in the blood.
- Breastfed babies since breast milk is not a good source of this vitamin.8
Do Not Oversupplement
Excessive amounts of vitamin D can be harmful so do not go overboard while taking supplements. Oversupplementation can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, constipation, poor appetite, weight loss, weakness, disorientation, confusion, and issues with your heart rhythm. It may also damage your kidneys. The upper limit of vitamin D is 1,000 to 1,500 IU per day for babies, 2,500 to 3,000 IU per day for children between the ages of 1 to 8, and 4,000 IU per day for all others. You can’t get too much vitamin D from sun exposure because your body automatically restricts the amount of vitamin D that it produces.9
|↑1||Ginde, Adit A., Mark C. Liu, and Carlos A. Camargo. “Demographic differences and trends of vitamin D insufficiency in the US population, 1988-2004.” Archives of internal medicine 169, no. 6 (2009): 626-632.|
|↑2, ↑4||How do I get the vitamin D my body needs?. Vitamin D Council.|
|↑3||How to get vitamin D from sunlight. National Health Service.|
|↑5, ↑6||Vitamin D. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑7, ↑8, ↑9||Vitamin D. National Institutes of Health.|