Vitamin D: It’s the vitamin everyone knows you get from sunshine. It’s also the name of Ludacris’s questionable video. But where the heck to do you get it from between October and early March when winter (read: dark days) happen? And before you say, stock up on vitamin D foods, stop. “In theory, it is possible to get more than enough vitamin D from your diet,” says Rob Hobson, head of nutrition for Healthspan and co-author of Cheats and Eats (£9.99, healthspan.co.uk). “But in reality, your choice of vitamin D foods is very limited. At most, it’s likely that you may be able to get up to 20% of your vitamin D intake from food. The rest needs to come from sunlight – and vitamin D supplements.”
Unlike other vitamins, vit D behaves more like a hormone in your body – low levels wreak havoc on many internal systems. You might notice this as feeling tired, or even depressed. In review studies, researchers linked vitamin D deficiency to poor mental health. Plus, new research in Journal of Affective Disorders highlights how women are more at risk of SAD than men.
Other known symptoms of low vitamin D levels are hair loss, lower back and muscle pain.
If you don’t live near the equator, or have an Uber Private Jet chartered for the Maldives, keep reading for how to avoid a vitamin D deficiency. Studies suggest that at least half of the UK’s white population are vitamin D deficient – ensure you’re not part of that stat.
HOW MUCH VITAMIN D DO I NEED?
When it comes to vitamin D, there are five different types; but it’s vitamin D3 that’s key.”‘Aim for 10mcg of vitamin D every day,” Hobson says. FYI, the average diet only manages 3mcg.”And consume no more than 100mcg.” Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, those who spend little time outside or have darker skin tones, have a greater risk of vitamin D deficiency. Oh, and if you live north of the border? You better top up, too.
THE RESULT OF A LACK OF VITAMIN D
Where to start? Not only is vitamin D essential for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the body – hello healthy bones and teeth – but it also helps to maintain muscle strength. The University of Birmingham found that those with higher levels of vitamin D had stronger, healthier muscles, and were less likely to carry excess body fat.
Vitamin D is also important for its role in boosting the immune system and fighting recurring infections such as bacterial vaginosis; preventing depression – a vitamin D deficiency can increase your risk of the experiencing the condition by a third – and type 2 diabetes; and helping with the likes of asthma, MS and breast cancer.
So, why is it then that as many as 40% of you are low in the vitamin and heading for a potential vitamin D deficiency? It’s time to dose up.
WHAT ARE THE BEST SOURCES OF VITAMIN D?
“Vitamin D is often nicknamed as the “sunshine vitamin” because the greatest source of vitamin D comes from the sun,” Hobson says. “Your body is able to synthesise vitamin D under the skin when you’re outside, which is why it is often referred to as a hormone as vitamins need to be obtained from the diet and cannot be made in the body.” In winter, however, the sun simply isn’t strong – or sufficient – enough to meet our needs.
When it comes to vitamin D foods, the options are limited. Think oily fish, eggs, fortified foods (such as breakfast cereals and margarine spreads) and mushrooms. “You can increase the vitamin D content of your mushrooms by storing them on a sunny window sill,” Hobson says. “Their vitamin D content is naturally enhanced in UV light. A study by the Penn State University found than when white mushrooms are exposed to UV light, they go from containing no vitamin D to an incredible 824% of the RDA.” Magic…
TOP VITAMIN D FOODS
• Raw herrings (140g) – Vitamin D count: 26mcg
• Raw sardines (140g) – Vitamin D count: 15.4mcg
• Raw trout (140g) – Vitamin D count: 14.8g
• Pilchards canned in tomato source (1 can) – Vitamin D count: 14mcg
• Raw kippers (140g) – Vitamin D count: 11.2mcg
• Raw tuna (140g) – Vitamin D count: 10.8mcg
• Raw salmon (140g) – Vitamin D count: 8.4mcg
• Canned salmon (1/2 can) – Vitamin D count: 8mcg
• Mushrooms (100g) – Vitamin D count: 5mcg
• Two boiled eggs – Vitamin D count: 1.8mcg
• Bran Flakes (30g) – Vitamin D count: 1.3mcg
• Flora spread (15g) – Vitamin D count: 0.75mcg
WHAT ARE THE BEST VITAMIN D SUPPLEMENTS?
Given the difficulties in meeting – let alone beating – the recommended guidelines for vitamin D in the UK, this is one vitamin that it is worth supplementing. And even more so during the autumn and winter months when the sun is weaker and less readily available. “The best benchmark,” says Hobson,”‘is to start taking a vitamin D supplement when the clocks go back in the winter, and to stop when they go forward in the spring.”
The good news is there are plenty of options available – from tablets to sprays to chewy gummies. Click here for our top pick of vitamin D supplements.
THE VITAMIN D DIET
Try Hobson’s one-day meal plan of vitamin D foods to give your system a boost of sunshine.
Two scrambled eggs on toast, spread with margarine spread
Vitamin D count: 2.6mcg
Vegetable stir fry including 100g mushrooms
Vitamin D count: 5mg
Grilled trout with mixed vegetables and potatoes
Vitamin D count: 14.8mcg
Two children’s Petits Filous yoghurts
Vitamin D count: 2.6mcg
Berry smoothie made with 250ml of fortified soya milk
Vitamin D count: 1.8mcg
Two boiled eggs sprinkled with celery salt or smoked paprika
Vitamin D count: 1.8mcg
Feeling run down? Try these vitamin d supplements, check the signs of B12 defiency or whether you’re at risk of magnesium deficiency.