The Importance of Vitamin D

According to the calendar, spring has officially sprung!  But if you’re like me and found yourself scraping the ice off your car this morning (yes, on March 28th!), you must be feeling that winter is here to stay!  Because of the cold, icy mess that winter brings each year, we find ourselves spending almost all of our time indoors, trying to forget we have to shovel the driveway and layering sweater after sweater to keep warm.  Unfortunately, this lack of sunshine and warmth has a greater impact than just bringing down our mood- we get less vitamin D too!

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D has become increasingly popular in the media as more and more information about how North Americans are deficient in the vitamin is revealed.  Approximately 40% of people living in both Canada and the United States are below the adequate blood concentration of vitamin D during the winter months.  Who cares, you ask?  Vitamin D is an important factor in keeping bones healthy, fighting infections, regulating blood pressure, and controlling insulin production (which helps to keep blood sugar down).  Current research also suggests that the vitamin may prevent certain types of cancer, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.  So there are many reasons to be concerned about our Vitamin D levels!

Where to Find Vitamin D

Fortunately for us, this winter weather seems to be going back into hibernation- not soon enough, I might add!  You may be thinking, “What does the weather have to do with getting enough vitamin D?”  Simply put, Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin”.  Our body is able to make its own vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight.  So as winter comes to an end, flowers start to bloom, and the sun stays out past 5pm, spring is the season to start increasing our exposure to the sun.  But no need to whip out last summer’s bathing suit and start tanning on the driveway (your neighbors may not appreciate it!).  5 to 30 minutes of direct sun exposure to the face, arms, legs, or back at least twice a week can typically lead to sufficient vitamin D synthesis.  Remember though, cloud coverage, shade, and sunscreen can impact the amount of UV rays absorbed.  The sun is strongest between the hours of 10am and 3pm, so you’re more likely to get optimal Vitamin D synthesis during these hours.

Goal: Take a 15 minute walk during your lunch hour at least two days of the week and soak up the sun!

Vitamin D is also found in some of the foods we eat.  Unfortunately, it is only found in a limited number of foods, so combining these foods with exposure to sunlight during the day will help ensure you’re getting enough Vitamin D.  Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel contain substantial amounts of vitamin D naturally.  Other foods, such as cow’s milk, margarine, yogurt, and soy beverages are fortified with Vitamin D-meaning they don’t naturally contain the vitamin, but it is added during processing.  Some cereals and orange juice may also be fortified with the vitamin.

Tip: When looking for food sources high in vitamin D, read the label!  Foods containing 20% Daily Value (DV) per serving or more of vitamin D are considered to be a significant source of the vitamin.

Goal: Include fatty fish in your diet at least 1-2x per week.  Try salmon, tuna, or mackerel.

Enjoy the Sunlight

So as the weather warms up and the sun comes out from behind the clouds, why not take a moment, 5 to 30 minutes specifically, to soak up the sun and synthesize some vitamin D!  And while you’re at it, make yourself a hearty tuna sandwich, pour yourself a glass of milk, and you’ll be well on your way to boosting your vitamin D levels!

Office Activity:

Time for a coffee break?  Consider using those 10-15 minutes to improve your vitamin D synthesis by going for a walk in the sunshine.

Pack yourself a healthy lunch.  Include a salmon or tuna sandwich and a glass of vitamin-D fortified milk or orange juice.

Remember: Don’t go overboard with the sun!  While the sun is an excellent (and easy!) way to obtain your vitamin D, be mindful that you are not getting sunburned!  If you are going to be in direct sunlight for more than 30 minutes, you may want to consider using some sunscreen and wearing sun-protective clothing, especially as the summer months approach.

Photo Credit: Eduardo Amorim via Compfight cc