Nutrition Articles

How to Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin D

Important Reasons to Soak Up the Sunshine Vitamin

When is a vitamin not really a vitamin? When it's vitamin D! The "sunshine" vitamin, aptly named because sunlight is a source of it, is actually a hormone. Vitamin D is currently receiving a lot of attention and research regarding its role in various diseases. Because it isn't found in many foods, and people tend to slather on sunscreen (which blocks your body's ability to make vitamin D from the sun) or spend most of the day indoors, many are wondering if their intake of vitamin D is sufficient.

Why Vitamin D Matters
A report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) indicates that there is strong scientific evidence showing that vitamin D plays an important role in bone health. Vitamin D then helps to deposit these minerals in your skeleton and teeth, making them stronger and healthier. Therefore, vitamin D helps prevent the fractures associated with osteoporosis, the bone deformation of rickets, and the muscle weakness and bone aches and pains of osteomalacia (the softening of bones).

But a deficiency of vitamin D may go beyond bones—it may be related to a variety of health problems. Because it's a hormone, and your body is full of receptors for this hormone, it may play a role in the prevention of other ailments. After analyzing more than 1,000 studies the IOM believes that there is not substantial evidence to support vitamin D's role in other diseases. But preliminary research indicates the importance of meeting one’s basic daily needs for vitamin D is important for overall health and well-being. A lack of vitamin D has been blamed for a plethora of health problems, but more targeted research should continue for diseases such as:
  • Cancer. Preliminary research suggests that vitamin D has an anti-cancer benefit. It may stop the growth and progression of cancer cells and be beneficial during cancer treatment, too.
  • Hormonal problems. Vitamin D influences the functions of insulin, rennin, serotonin and estrogen—hormones involved with health conditions such as diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression and premenstrual syndrome.
  • Obesity. Some research shows that a vitamin D deficiency can interfere with the "fullness" hormone leptin, which signals the brain that you are full and should stop eating.
  • Inflammation. Vitamin D may help control the inflammation involved with periodontal disease, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
  • Weakened immune system. Vitamin D may play a role in a strengthening your immune system, especially in autoimmune disorders (when the body attacks itself) like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
How much vitamin D do you need?
In the last few years, many experts and health organizations urged the Institute of Medicine to revisit the DRI set for vitamin D and re-evaluate the latest research. After a thorough review, the recommendations for vitamin D did go up by two or threefold in some age groups. The current Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin D (as of November 2010) is:
  • Ages 1-70: 600 IU (International Units) daily
  • Ages 71 and older: 800 IU daily
  • Tolerable Upper Intake Level: ages 9 and up: 4000 IU daily

Are you deficient on D?
Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, the body can store it for long periods. Tracking your intake from foods or supplements alone won't determine if you're truly deficient in vitamin D. Moreover, even if you appear to get enough vitamin D from foods or supplements, there is no guarantee that your body is absorbing or using all the D that you appear to be consuming. The only way to know your vitamin D status is to ask your health care provider for a vitamin D test. (It is best to have the test preformed about a month before the beginning of winter.) Your doctor will check your blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D. A desirable result for this test, according to the IOM is 20-30 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter).

The ABC's of Getting Your D
Vitamin D is a key nutrient for everyone and there are three ways to obtain it: from the sun, food or supplements. Here's what you need to know about each source.

Sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D. It is free and abundant. The ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun convert a precursor into vitamin D, which becomes 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the liver and is then activated to 1, 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the kidneys. A person sitting outside in a bathing suit in New York City gets more vitamin D in 20 minutes than from drinking 200 glasses of milk. In fact, many experts suggest getting 10 minutes of unprotected sun on the arms and face or arms and legs, three times weekly and before applying sunscreen. But getting vitamin D from the sun isn't that simple. UVB rays vary greatly depending on latitude, cloud cover, time of year and time of day. Above 42 degrees north latitude, the sun’s rays do not provide sufficient D from November through February, for example. Remember too, that UVB rays do not penetrate glass or sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 8 or more. The elderly, people who spend all or most of their time indoors, and people with darker skin also produce less vitamin D. Talk to your health care provider about unprotected sun exposure; not everyone in the scientific community thinks that even a little sun is a good idea, because of the risk of skin cancer.

Food can provide vitamin D, but it's difficult to get 600 IU of vitamin D from your diet alone. Only a few foods (fatty fish, liver and egg yolks) contain vitamin D naturally. Other foods, such as milk and cereal, are fortified with vitamin D. While the average person gets less than the required amount of vitamin D through their daily diet, few people are showing a deficiency, according to the most recent studies.

Be sure to pin this infographic and scroll below for more information.

Food Source Vitamin D (IU)
Cod liver oil+, 1 tablespoon 1,360
Salmon, 3.5 oz cooked 360
Mackerel, 3.5 oz cooked 345
Sardines, 1.75 oz canned in oil 250
Tuna fish, 3 oz canned in oil 200
Milk, 1 cup (fortified*) 100
Orange juice, 1 cup (fortified) 100
Soymilk, 1 cup (fortified) 100
Yogurt, 6 oz (fortified) 60-80
Pudding, 1/2 cup (made with fortified milk) 50
Egg, 1 whole (vitamin D found in yolk) 41
Ready-to-eat cereal, 3/4 cup to 1 cup (fortified) 40
Margarine, 1 teaspoon (fortified) 20
Beef liver, 3.5 oz cooked 15
Swiss cheese, 1 oz 12

*Check food labels; not all products are fortified with vitamin D and amount per serving varies by brand.
+Before trying the potent supplement cod liver oil (or any fish oil), check with your doctor because of fish oil's vitamin A content and possible toxicity.

Supplements may be necessary for a few individuals, but check with your doctor first. A multivitamin-mineral supplement typically contains 400 IU of vitamin D. Many supplements contain ergocalciferol, called D2, which is a less potent form of vitamin D derived from the irradiation of yeast; it's also less expensive. You are better off using a supplement that contains cholecalciferol, or D3, made from fish oil, the fat of lamb’s wool (lanolin) or the chemical conversion of cholesterol. This form is much better absorbed by the body, but it can be harder to find and more expensive. (Check the supplement label or inquire with supplement manufacturers to find out whether they use D2 or D3 if the label doesn't specify.) Vitamin D is often added to calcium supplements, or you can also buy a vitamin D supplement by itself. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so take your supplement with a meal containing some fat to enhance absorption.

Spark Action!
It is far too early to call vitamin D a wonder drug, but evidence of its importance is mounting. Therefore, you may want to consider this Spark of advice:
  • Aim to get 600 IU of vitamin D daily through your diet. You can track your intake on SparkPeople's Nutrition Tracker to see how well you are doing.
  • Talk to your health care provider about the need for a vitamin D test, and discuss your test results.
  • Talk to your health care provider about careful sun exposure—10 minutes on the arms, face, and/or legs, three times weekly—before you slather on the sunscreen.
  • Talk to your health care provider about a vitamin D supplement or a multivitamin-mineral supplement that contains vitamin D. If you take one, make sure it is the vitamin D3 form, cholecalciferol.
  • Eat foods rich in vitamin D each day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Talk to your doctor if you are using the weight loss drug, Orlistat (brand names include Xenical and Alli). This drug may decrease the absorption of vitamin D.
  • Antacids, some cholesterol lowering drugs, some anti-seizure medications, and steroids (like Prednisone) interfere with the absorption of Vitamin D, so discuss your vitamin D intake with your doctor or pharmacist if you take any of these drugs.
While it's no secret that vitamin D plays a key role in bone health, it's important to note that too much of a good thing can be dangerous as well. Your body stores vitamin D—and those stores can build up to toxic levels if you go overboard. Many people currently ingest large amounts of vitamin D through supplements and fortified foods. Others simply believe that more is better. However, the IOM set a tolerable upper intake level for vitamin D at 4,000 IU per day. You should NOT strive to consume this much vitamin D—this is an upper limit for safety. Too much vitamin D is toxic and will increase your risk of health problems. The key, like many experts advise regarding nutrition, food and health, is making sure you get enough of a this powerful nutrient while avoiding extremes.

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Member Comments

  • Good to think over.
  • I am planning my food intake so I get all my vitamins and minerals through food sources and not supplements.
  • I already take Vitamin D3 5,000Iu, once daily, for the past 2 years. It has really helped build up my vitamin D. I am, also in a wheel chair unable to get any lower body exercise.
  • I struggled with joint pain and inflammation for years. The ache and pains were just a part of my day. I just figured that it was early arthritis until my DR tested me and discovered that my Vitamin D was so low it failed to register on the test. Now I take supplements daily and the inflammation pain is almost entirely a thing of the past. I have become a big fan of "D"!!
  • Hello Everyone, I was diagnosed by my doctor as extremely low vitamin D. We determined it was causing a host of problems for me. Depression, bone pain, muscle weakness, loss of sleep, inability to focus, etc. I have now been taking 50,000 IBU pills once a week, and am in my 4th week. I have to tell you, the difference has been amazing. Not everything is solved, but I now have energy to work out, no bone pain, I have some muscle weakness but nothing like before. I am a happier person, I sleep better (not best, but improving), and I seem to have more focus at work. The factors working against me are that I have latino dark skin, in my early 40's, and work at a desk job inside all day. I am trying to get more sun naturally, and I feel different in the evenings when I am able to get about 30 minutes of full sun during the day. Please note, I am an extreme case - my vitamin D levels were checked by my doctor and came in at a 6. I am interested to see what they are at when I go back in for a re-check in a few weeks.
  • i cant hardly go out in the sun , i blister really bad and can get burnt just by being in the shade, some of the foods that have vit d are a surprise though
  • TROCKS89
    I also was told by my doctor that I had a low vitamin D level. I did some research and came across this article. I also found another article here: https://www.thenu
    our-diet-lacks-vitamin-d/ I was really feeling down on myself and after I started taking daily vitamin D I can notice a difference.
  • My vitamin d was tested and was low. I am now taking a supplement, and hope that my level increases.
  • Sorry but its dead wrong to say that sunlight is a SOURCE of it .The UV rays stimulate its production in your body, The amount of sun one needs is also dependant on one's latitude.
    I really need to start taking more vitamins. I exercise and try to keep to a low calorie diet, but I make sure to get protein and nutrients that are essential to a healthy body. I'll have to keep an eye out for vitamin D next time I'm out.
  • I don't take a supplement, but I am going to start taking vitamins soon. I really don't think you should advise people to go out in the sun. A second cousin of mine died of skin cancer from sun exposure and so did my grandmother's best friend's husband. The cousin went really quick as far as I know, we heard she had it, and not long after, gone! And the man, he was sick for years, confined to his bed, with his skin falling off. That's pretty terrible! And not only, that, his wife had to stay home all the time caring for him. If you can take a supplement, you should. Being poor, though, is no excuse to be playing in the sun, because getting cancer can cost you a LOT of money, that you don't have! I can't even believe you would suggest it.
    I was just recently diagnosed with breast cancer and my doctor said my vitamin D level was low. I am taking a prescription strength Vitamin D tablet once a week! I haven't been on it long enough to see any difference. atc medical
  • The latest information today said that low vitamin is correlated with Alzheimer's. Enough for me to start taking it. (and I have an aversion to taking even an asprin..)
  • The question becomes: are eggs really good for the body?
  • Even though I eat many of the foods listed, take a multi vitamin and D3, 2000 iu, I was tested low in "D". My Droctor increased my "D" to 4000 iu's a day. I do have RA and stay out of sun, don't want skin cancer just to get vitamin D.
    I never take vitamins or supplements before checking with my Doctor.
    Sometimes ones body doesn't absorb certain minerals or vitamins as it should. And one doesn't want to have toxic levels by getting too much.
    As far as D2 or ,D3, the bodys preferred form of "D" is D3..

About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

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