In the dead of winter, it’s hard to remember how sunny and warm the summers are here in the UK and how easy it is then to get your daily dose of the sunshine vitamin.
Unfortunately for us in the northern part of the world, the sun doesn’t shine warmly enough through the year for us to keep on rolling our sleeves up to allow for time for our skin to synthesize vitamin D from the sunlight. There is a fine line between ensuring you get enough and safeguarding you don’t get sunburn.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, helps the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus from our diet. These minerals are important for healthy bones and teeth. A lack of vitamin D (known as a deficiency) can cause bones to become weak, soft and brittle.
Then how do we get enough vitamin D?
The best way to get enough vitamin D to cover your body’s needs is to get a daily dose of sunshine on uncovered skin, arms, legs or face (without sunscreen) for a short period of time, preferably between 11am and 3pm, but unfortunately here in the UK the ultraviolet light is only strong enough to make vitamin D on exposed skin in the middle of the day during April to September.
If you do go out in the sun two or three times a week for at least 15 minutes before applying sunscreen during this period, your body will have time to make enough vitamin D. Although, the darker the skin, the longer you need to spend in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D.
Vitamin D from the diet
We can also get some vitamin D from our diet, which is especially important during the winter months when your body doesn’t get enough exposure to sunlight to synthesize sufficient amounts of the vitamin from the suns rays.
Help your body to get more vitamin D by eating plenty of vitamin D rich foods, such as;
Oily fish (salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout and kippers), they contain reasonable amounts of vitamin D
Cod liver oil (contains a lot of vitamin D), not suitable for pregnancy
Eggs, meat and milk contain small amounts (but varies during the season)
Some fortified foods, such as margarine, some cereals and some yogurts (look out for ‘fortified with vitamin D’ on the label)
In the UK, generally cows’ milk is not a good source of vitamin D because it isn’t currently fortified, as it is in other countries.
So even a healthy, balanced and nutritious diet, that provides all the other vitamin and mineral goodness you need, is unlikely to provide enough vitamin D. Sunshine is where most of the vitamin D comes from.
Does everyone need to supplement with vitamin D, then? The answer is no, not necessarily. If you belong to these following groups, who might be at risk of a deficiency and a supplement may be necessary:
People aged 65 years or older and people who are not exposed to much sun
Pregnant and breastfeeding women
All babies and children aged six months to five years should be given a daily supplement
Or groups who always cover up most of their skin or spend most of their time indoors
If you are unsure whether you would need a vitamin D supplement, talk to your healthcare professional or pharmacy staff or ask your nutritionist.
Can you have too much of the good thing?
The answer is yes! If you are taking vitamin D supplements, which are recommended to certain groups at risk of vitamin D deficiency, there is a safe upper limit, 25 micrograms (0.025mg) a day. More than that could be harmful!
Ensuring you get enough vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium for healthy bones and teeth among other very important things. Like with everything else in life, enjoy in moderation and favour natural sources, if possible!