Vitamin D: How Can I Get Enough?

When we think of "vitamins," we know they're super-important for health. But vitamin D is special. This week Midlife Menu looks at the so-called "sunshine vitamin" and suggest 3 ways to get more of it into your life.

How Can I Get Enough Vitamin D?

When we think of "vitamins," we know they're super-important for health. But vitamin D is special.

Vitamin D is critical for good health but too many people simply don't get enough of the "sunshine vitamin." It’s not easy to get most of the year, especially during the winter in the northern hemisphere and it’s not in too many foods.

Vitamin D is, therefore, a very common deficiency. One in five people in the UK have low vitamin D levels, which is defined as having blood serum levels below 25 nmol/L) ( and I know of family and friends who have benefitted from supplementing vitamin D).

I can’t talk from experience as I’m notorious for buying supplements and being dreadful for taking them! Somehow the act of buying them convinces me that I don’t need to do anything else.

Anyway, let's talk about how much of this critical fat-soluble vitamin we need and how you can get enough. The three ways to vitamin D are exposure to the sun, consuming vitamin D containing food, and through supplements.

Why is Vitamin D important, and how much do we need?

Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium from our food and acts like a hormone to help us build strong bones. Vitamin D can also help with immune function, cellular growth and help to prevent mood imbalances such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.

Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to bone diseases like osteomalacia. Inadequate vitamin D can also increase your risk of heart disease, autoimmune diseases and even certain cancers. The Recommended Nutrient Intake for all people aged 4 and above is 10 µg/day (or 400 IU/day) but many experts think this is not nearly enough for optimal health.

To ensure you get adequate amounts of vitamin D, you can implement any combination of the three vitamin D sources mentioned above on a weekly basis. And the Department of Health recommend the following depending on the time of year:

  • Between late March/early April and September, the majority of people will probably obtain sufficient vitamin D from sunlight outdoors and foods containing or fortified with vitamin D. People might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.

  • From October to March everyone will need to rely on dietary sources of vitamin D. It might be difficult to get enough from foods so everyone, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 µg (micrograms) of vitamin D.

How can I get enough Vitamin D from the sun?

Your skin makes vitamin D when it's exposed to the sun; that's why it's referred to as the "sunshine vitamin”. How much vitamin D your skin makes depends on many things: location, season, clouds and clothing all affect the amount of vitamin D your skin can produce from the sun.

One standard recommendation is to get about 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. to the face, arms, legs or back. This should be done without sunscreen, at least twice a week.

Of course, we should always avoid sunburn and of course in some locations (and seasons of the year) it's not easy to get sun exposure. So, how can we get enough vitamin D in other ways?

How can I get enough Vitamin D from food?

Vitamin D is naturally found in some foods such as fatty fish, liver and egg yolks. This sheet by The British Nutrition Foundation provides a list of foods and their vitamin D content. 

One little trick you can use to increase your vitamin D levels in food is to place mushrooms on a window sill for a couple of hours around mid-day. Because they’re grown commercially in the dark, they react significantly when exposed to daylight. James Wong explains more here. 

Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can increase absorption of it from your food if you eat it with some fat (healthy fat, of course). Garlic mushrooms with a drizzle of olive oil maybe?

Some foods are "fortified" with vitamin D (which means vitamin D has been added). These include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals and yogurt. It will say on the label how much vitamin D has been added per serving. Bear in mind though that just because the food is fortified with that much vitamin D, we might not absorb all of it.

Between sun exposure and food, it still may be difficult to get 10 µg of vitamin D each day which is why vitamin D supplements are quite popular.

How can I get enough Vitamin D from supplements?

It's easy enough to just "pop a pill" or take some cod liver oil (which also contains vitamin A). Either of these can ensure that you get the minimum amount of vitamin D, plus a bit extra.

But before you take vitamin D containing supplements, make sure you check that it won't interact with other supplements or medications you may be taking. Always read your labels and ask a healthcare professional for advice.

Do not take more than the suggested dosage on the label of any vitamin D supplement, except under medical care.

The maximum amount recommended (for the general population) is 100 µg/day (4,000 IU/day). Too much vitamin D can raise your blood levels of calcium (to an unsafe level) and this can affect your heart and kidneys.

If you're concerned, ask your healthcare professional to do a blood test and make a recommendation about how much vitamin in supplement form is right for you. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation for a short time while under their care.

3 ways to ensure you’re getting enough Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin and many people have a hard time maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D.

  1. Get out in the sunshine for about 5–30 minutes between 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. at least twice a week. This should be done without sunscreen but take super care not to burn.

  2. Get your mushrooms on the window sill! Be mindful of including plenty of vitamin D rich foods into your diet or have fortified foods.

  3. Consider taking a supplement between October and March. If you're concerned, it's best to request a blood test that tests your vitamin D levels to be sure what's right for you. Always take supplements as directed.

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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this blog are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this blog. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this blog. Midlife Menu Ltd disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this blog.