Vitamin D is important. It helps your body absorb calcium, promotes bone growth and plays a role in your immune system. It’s commonly called the “sunshine vitamin,” as our bodies use the energy from sunlight to make vitamin D, which by definition is actually a prohormone. Given abrupt, pandemic-induced changes to our lives that have resulted in many of us making far fewer trips outside, a lot of people have been wondering whether they are getting enough vitamin D, and if there is anything they should do about it.
Many people are already deficient in vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is common; an estimated 42% of Americans have lower levels of the hormone than is strictly recommended. We all spend a lot less time out in the sun than our ancestors did.
However, there are a number of ways you can get enough vitamin D, which includes increasing the amount of sunlight you get; eating foods that naturally contain vitamin D, such as fatty fishes; and eating fortified foods or taking a vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin D is something your body will store for later use, which means you don’t need to get enough of it every single day—you just need to get enough to last you over a period of time.
How much vitamin D do you need?
How much vitamin D you need depends on a number of factors, including your age, race, amount of regular sun exposure and the season. The average most people need ranges between 10-20 micrograms. Since vitamin D can be safely stored in the body, this is an average; blood levels above 20-30 ng/mL are deemed to be sufficient.
The more melanin your skin has, the more sunlight you require to make vitamin D. If you don’t get a lot of sun exposure, or if you live in a northern part of the country, you’ll also probably need to take in more vitamin D from other sources, which could come in the form of vitamins or fortified foods.
What foods contain vitamin D?
Foods that contain vitamin D include fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel or salmon; beef liver; cheese and egg yolks. There are also a number of foods that are commonly fortified with vitamin D, such as some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk and cereals. For these foods, you’ll want to check the nutritional labels—some brands add in vitamin D, and others don’t.
Milk is commonly though of as a source for vitamin D, but it will only be present if the milk is fortified—and it will say so right on the label.
How much sunlight would you need?
When it comes to making vitamin D, midday sun is most effective. Under the right circumstances, 10-15 minutes of sunlight a few days a week is enough for the body to make all the vitamin D we need. However, these right circumstances depend on the season, location, cloud cover and a number of other factors. You also need to get direct sunlight—rather than early morning or late afternoon sunlight—which is harder to get in the winter months.
If you don’t think you can get enough vitamin D from sunlight alone, it’s worth looking at your diet and figuring out whether you might need to add in one of the sourced discussed above. The good news is that you have options. Which one is the best fit will depend on your own situation.