Lounging on the beach yesterday, I reflected on how good the warm sun felt on my skin. Simultaneously, the nutrition geek in me was counting the vitamin D molecules my body was producing. Vitamin D is so unique in its ability to be synthesized by the sun, and requires little dietary consumption compared to the other vitamins. So imagine my surprise when, after returning home and washing off the beach sand, I read that a stunning 75% of Americans are vitamin D-deficient! 1
Vitamin D receives so much attention for its physiological importance, and is so easy to synthesize; yet many people are simultaneously avoiding sun exposure because of its associated skin cancer risks. So how can you meet your vitamin D requirements without also increasing your risk for sun-related skin cancer?
What Is the Importance of Vitamin D?
The fat-soluble vitamin D is unique in two ways: 1) It is produced mostly via sun exposure, and 2) the active form of vitamin D, calcitriol, actually functions as a hormone.
Calcitriol works to manage our body’s calcium and phosphorus levels, hence the relationship between vitamin D status and bone health. It also plays a significant role in protein synthesis and disease prevention. 2
The current vitamin D Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for males/females aged 1-69 is 600 IU, and 800 IU for people who are 70+ years old. Populations at highest risk for vitamin D deficiency include:
- Elderly folks and children
- Individuals with diseases characterized by fat malabsorption (e.g. Crohn’s disease)
- Individuals with conditions affecting the parathyroid, liver, or kidney
Prolonged deficiency in children can lead to a condition called rickets, which causes bone softening and distortion. Adult deficiency, or osteomalacia, also causes bone softening and an increased likelihood of fractures and breaks. 3
5 Steps You Can Take to Combat Vitamin D Deficiency
Below, I’ve compiled a few easy ways to maintain healthy vitamin D status (without forfeiting your skin-cancer-free status!).
Twice a week, spend 5-30 minutes in the sun (optimally 10 AM-3 PM), without sunscreen. A jog around the block, tennis, or even a quiet afternoon on your back porch will do the trick. Try natural solutions for preventing burns that won't block vitamin D production like most commercial sunscreens do. 3
Eat foods that naturally contain vitamin D. These include cheese, yogurt, egg yolks, and the flesh of fatty fish. Use one or more of them in a fun summer recipe, such as chard-wrapped salmon, lox and scallian scrambled eggs, or a simple tuna salad made with wild-caught canned skipjack tuna. Yogurt berry cups made with our own Heaven Mountain goji berries can also be a tasty source at any time of the day.
Take High Vitamin Cod Liver Oil. One serving contains more than the adult DRI, but also does not exceed the maximum upper-level intake level. Because it has a less-than-savory taste, check out Kayla’s tips and tricks to taking cod liver oil.
Maintain adequate infant vitamin D status. Moms who are breastfeeding should take care to maintain adequate vitamin D status for their nursing babies (see above tips); alternatively, if formula must be the infant’s primary source of nutrition, our highly-rated homemade baby formula kits will supply natural sources of vitamin D during this important stage of growth and development.
Which vitamin D-conscious steps or foods worked for you? Let me know in the comment section!
Carlie Frydman is a high school Biology teacher and writer in Cambridge, MA. She discovered her love for nutritional science and exercise when she began running, and now coaches varsity track and cross country. In her free time, Carlie can be found in her kitchen trying a funky new cheese recipe, or soaking up the sun at the nearest body of water.