As nutrients go, vitamin D is something of a powerhouse. The sunshine vitamin is essential for optimal health, and in fact, almost every single cell in your body uses it. Since it’s crucial to our everyday functioning, you think getting enough would be a priority. And yet around one quarter of the UK population is deficient, rising to around one third in the winter months, according to healthcare resource Guidelines in Practice .
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Interestingly enough, vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin at all. It’s a steroid hormone produced by your kidneys. “Ultraviolet B (UVB) sunlight rays convert cholesterol in the skin into vitamin D,” explains Nicola Read, clinical fellow for Bupa Health Clinics. “The sunlight has to fall directly on to bare skin – through a window is not enough, and if you wear clothes that cover your skin entirely, your skin can’t make it.”
While vitamin D does exist sparingly in certain foods – as you’ll read soon enough – it’s pretty difficult to munch your RDA. NHS guidelines for adults recommend a daily intake of around 400 to 800 international units (IU), but many experts argue that you should get even more than that. “During the winter months , your body often relies on stores from the summer and so you are at greater risk of being deficient,” Read continues. Getty Imagesphototake
Technically, there are a few different types of vitamin D. The most common are D2, which is produced by plants and found in fortified foods, and D3, which is made by your skin and found in animal-sourced foods .
In the business of vitamin D, the best ROI comes from D3. “Vitamin D3 is the most bioavailable source of Vitamin D, meaning more of the nutrient can be absorbed and utilised in the body,” explains nutritionist Jenna Hope. What Are the Benefits of Vitamin D?
Getty Imagesphotka Vitamin D Strengthens Your Skeleton
Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium in your body, which – as years of milk advertising has told you – is essential for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. “Without adequate amounts, calcium cannot be absorbed and utilised effectively,” says Hope. Vitamin D Fortifies Your Immune System
The sunshine vitamin supercharges your immune system , and according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , reduces your likelihood of developing the flu.
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It also plays a key role in mood function, Hope adds. One Norwegian study found that people with depression who received vitamin D supplements noticed their symptoms improve over the course of one year. Vitamin D Suppresses Your Appetite
Vitamin D may also help you hit your weight loss goals . One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition reported that participants who supplemented their diet with calcium and vitamin D lose more weight than those taking a supplement, thanks to an appetite-suppressing effect. Vitamin D Shores up Muscle Strength
Vitamin D may help to optimise muscle strength , early research suggests. In a study by the University of Birmingham, scientists found a direct correlation between high lean mass and muscle mass and high levels of vitamin D. What Causes Vitamin D Deficiency?
“Living in the UK can be a key determinant of Vitamin D deficiency,” says Hope. “During the winter months it’s recommended that you supplement with 400 IU per day. Sun cream and darker skin tones can also be risk factors of vitamin D deficiency.” Getty Imagesjacoblund
Other risk factors for vitamin D deficiency include living in a polluted city, living further from the equator, being vegetarian , being dairy free, being elderly, suffering from digestive issues, and being overweight . “Poor kidney function can also be a risk of low vitamin D as the kidneys may struggle to convert vitamin D into its active form,” Hope adds. Getty ImagesJamie Grill What Are the Dangers of Vitamin D Deficiency?
Brittle bones is probably the most notorious health risk associated with vitamin D deficiency. This is down to its relationship with calcium. When your body isn’t producing enough vitamin D, it attempts to recover calcium in the blood by eking it out of your bones. Nice.
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Unfortunately, that’s not the end of it. Low levels of vitamin D has been identified as a risk factor for tooth decay, gum disease, irritable bowel disease, erectile dysfunction, autoimmune diseases, type 2 diabetes , schizophrenia, arthritis, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and cancer, studies show.
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How to know if your levels are lacking? Common signs and include fatigue , depression, gut issues, hair loss, weakness, snoring, sleep apnea, teeth grinding, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, sore joints, chronic pain, getting sick easily (or often), sweaty hands, and wounds that refuse to heal. Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms
According to the NHS, those at the most risk of vitamin D deficiency are those who are housebound and aren’t often outdoors or people who live in an institution or care home. Similarly, people with darker skin from African, African-Caribbean and south Asian backgrounds sometimes may not get enough vitamin D from sunlight. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include the following
Low Mood: Serotonin — the happy hormone — drops with a lack of sun exposure.
Ageing: If you’re over 50-years-old, your body can’t produce as much Vitamin D as needed as your kidneys become less efficient at producing it.
Excessive sweating: A frequent vitamin D deficiency symptom is a sweaty scalp. 15 of the Best Vitamin D Foods
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“Obtaining the recommendations of 400 IU is challenging through diet alone,” Hope says. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so it’s best eaten with a source of healthy fats – most vitamin D-rich foods are often already high in fat, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
When it comes to animal sources , you should also consider buying free range and organic. You probably won’t leech a substantial amount of vitamin D from an animal that has never seen the light of day. Mackerel
This fatty fish is the pinnacle of vitamin D-enriched dining, boasting 547 IU per 85g serving. Salmon
Salmon is another bumper source of vitamin D: a 100g serving contains approximately 526 IU. Extra kudos if it’s wild salmon, which naturally yields far more. Egg Yolks
Your average commercially-raised supermarket value egg contains around 30 IU of vitamin D, but those from hens raised outside or fed vitamin D-enriched feed contain far higher levels. Getty ImagesOlha_Afanasieva Mushrooms
Portobello mushrooms contain the most vitamin D, with 400 IU per 85g serving. You can give your fungi food shop a boost by leaving your mushrooms in the sun for around an hour between the hours of 10am and 3pm, or look out for vitamin-enriched varieties in supermarkets.
The Vitamin D-boosting Calisthenics Workout Beef Liver
Liver is one of the most nutrient-dense animal foods on the planet, but that probably doesn’t make it any more appealing. If you can stomach it, a 100g serving of beef liver contains around 50 IU. Ricotta While most cheeses contain small amounts of vitamin D, ricotta is the best option – containing more than five times the amount of vitamin D than other varieties. Getty Imagesaleksandar kamasi Tuna Levels vary depending on the type of tuna . Bluefin boasts the most, with 193 IU per 85g serve, while the same amount of yellowfin only contains 59 IU. Your average can of tinned tuna delivers around 154 IU. Shrimp One large shrimp contains 42 IU. And nobody ever just eats one shrimp. Plate up for a serious boost of the sunshine vitamin.Related Story Vitamin B12: 5 Reasons You Need More in Your Life Soy Milk Non-dairy milks like soya and almond milk are usually fortified with vitamin D – your average 100ml serving clocks up around 30 IU. Oysters Nature’s aphrodisiac does it again. Munch your way through five raw oysters to boost your vit D stores by 269 IU. Pork At around 40 IU per 100g on average, pork may not be the hardiest animal source of vitamin D, but you can make the most of your plateful by going organic and free range. Getty ImagesBrianAJackson Cod Liver Oil If seafood isn’t your thing, cod liver oil is your next best bet. Just one 5ml capsule contains 400 IU of vitamin D, making it a worthwhile winter supplement. Orange Juice Certain brands of this breakfast staple are available in fortified form, though you’ll need to check the back of the carton to find out just how much. Your typical 250ml glass of OJ usually contains around 140 IU. Herring With 1,628 IU per 100g serving, fresh herring provides your RDA in just a few bites. Sardines, which also belong to the herring family, contain approximately 270 IU per serve. Cereal Your morning bowl may also potentially top up your vitamin […]
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