Vitamin D Foods: Sources and Benefits

Vitamin D Foods: Sources and Benefits

Famous as the “Sunshine Vitamin”, Vitamin D is both a nutrient and a hormone produced by the body. Vitamin D is vital for calcium absorption. In addition, it is instrumental in promoting bone growth and bone remodelling. Thus, it is essential for good bone health and modulates cell growth, boosts our immune system, and prevents inflammation in the body.

Sun is a natural source of vitamin D. Just a few minutes in the sun can significantly boost your vitamin D levels. However, despite being easy to absorb, more than 40% of people worldwide suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to brittle bones, rickets, and osteomalacia. a weakened immune system, depression, cardiac-related issues, poor skin and hair health.

It is easy to maintain our vitamin D reserves during the summer months. However, a lack of sunshine in the winter months can lead to a deficit in your vitamin D levels. Even COVID and lockdown have increased vitamin D deficiencies since people stay indoors for days together, with less or almost no sun exposure.

To keep your vitamin D levels in check, you can include a few vitamin D-rich foods in your daily diet. Vitamin D-rich foods will help you restore and maintain your vitamin level and keep you healthy. If you have no idea about which foods are rich in vitamin D, do not worry. This article covers everything about vitamin D and will clear all your doubts regarding the same.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a prohormone, which means our body converts it into a hormone. It is also a fat-soluble vitamin, which means you need to have fat in your body for the proper absorption of vitamin D. Vitamin D maintains calcium and phosphorous levels in our bodies. It is an essential vitamin to maintain good bone, muscle, and teeth health.

Vitamin D is a combination of five substances, out of which two substances are essential for human beings. These are:

  • Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol) – Vitamin D2 is naturally present in mushrooms that receive sufficient sunlight. It is one of the best sources of Vitamin D2 for vegetarians.
  • Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) – Our body makes Vitamin D3 when the cholesterol in our skin comes in contact with the sunlight. Vitamin D3 is also present in some animal food products.

What is the Daily Dosage of Vitamin D?

You can measure your daily dose of Vitamin D in micrograms (mcg) or international units (IU). For example, one mcg of vitamin D = 40 IU.

Daily intake of vitamin D varies according to age and gender.

  • Infants 0-12 months: 400 IU or ten mcg
  • Children 1-18 years: 600 IU or 15 mcg
  • Adults up to 70 years: 800 IU or 15 mcg
  • Adults over 70 years: 800 IU or 20 mcg
  • Pregnant or Lactating Women: 600 IU or 15 mcg

Health Benefits of Vitamin D

Vitamin D has various health benefits such as;

1. Strong Bones and Muscles

Vitamin D promotes bone and muscle health by regulating calcium and phosphate in our bodies. A lack of Vitamin D in the body can cause brittle bones, weak muscles, and teeth. In children, a deficiency of vitamin D can cause rickets, and in adults, it can lead to osteomalacia.

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2. Enhances Immunity 

Vitamin D supports the immune system and fights harmful bacteria and viruses. It also helps to keep influenza, flu, and other respiratory illnesses at bay.

3. Improves Oral Health

It is because of vitamin D that our body can absorb calcium. Calcium, in turn, keeps our teeth strong and prevents oral gum problems. 

4. Lowers the Risk of Diabetes 

Vitamin D along with calcium helps prevent both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. 

5. Supports Mental Health 

Lower levels of vitamin D in the body can cause depression and mood swings. Conversely, high levels of vitamin D can significantly boost up your mood and improve your mental health.

6. Lowers the Risk of Cancer 

Research shows that people living in southern latitudes with high sunlight exposure have lower cancer risks. Vitamin D also slows down the formation of certain types of tumours and cancerous cells. 

Sources of Vitamin D

Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, and just by spending 10-15 minutes in the sun, you can boost your vitamin D levels. That is because when sunlight hits our skin, the fat or cholesterol present in our skin converts it into vitamin D. 

While sun exposure is more than sufficient for maintaining vitamin D levels in the body, consuming certain Vitamin D-rich foods are equally essential. Along with food, people with severe vitamin D deficiency can also take vitamin D supplements to fulfil their daily requirements.

Vitamin D Rich Foods

Food accounts for just 10% of the total vitamin D present in our body. People who do not get enough sun exposure or have dark skin can eat vitamin D-rich food to improve their vitamin quotient. Here is a list of few foods that are high in vitamin D:

1. Salmon 

Salmon is a good source of high-quality lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, it is also rich in vitamin D. Cooked salmon has 447 IU of vitamin D. Add salmon to your diet to increase your vitamin D levels.

2. Canned Tuna Fish

3 ounces or 85 g of tuna contains 154 IU of vitamin D. Having a tuna sandwich or tuna salad in your lunch can take up your vitamin D reserve. 

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3. Mushrooms

Most mushrooms do not contain vitamin D naturally. They need UV light treatment to produce vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D present in a mushroom depends on the amount of UV light it receives.

4. Fortified Milk 

8 fluid ounces or 236 ml of milk has 115 to 124 IU of vitamin D. Plant-based soy, or almond milk contains similar amounts of vitamin D. Have it in the form of shakes or smoothies to improve your calcium and vitamin D levels.

5. Fortified Orange Juice 

1 glass of fortified orange juice contains 137 IU of vitamin D. You can drink a glass of juice to add up to your daily dose of vitamin D.

6. Eggs 

1 egg yolk contains 41 IU of vitamin D. Eggs are a great source of calcium, protein, zinc, and essential minerals. Eat eggs regularly for a good dose of vitamin D.

7. Fortified Yogurt 

Yogurt is not only good for the gut, but the fortified variety can provide you with 10 – 20% of your daily vitamin D. Include yoghurt in your meals in different forms for a healthy–balanced diet.

What is Vitamin D Deficiency?

A lack of or insufficient amounts of vitamin D in the body can lead to vitamin D deficiency. Usually, people with dark skin or above 50 years of age are more susceptible to developing vitamin D deficiency. The melanin present in dark skin prevents sunlight into vitamin D. Sufficient amounts of vitamin D are essential to keep one healthy and strong. 

Severe vitamin D deficiency can lead to chronic health problems, such as:

  • Heart diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Immune system disorders
  • Recurrent infections
  • Certain types of cancers
  • Rickets
  • Osteomalacia
  • Weak bones and muscles
  • Kidney disorders
  • Obesity

Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency

Though vitamin D deficiency symptoms are pretty vague, many people do not even realise they have it unless they get a blood test done. However, paying attention to specific symptoms can help you identify whether or not you are suffering from vitamin D deficiency.

Symptoms Include:

  • Fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Bone pain
  • Hair loss
  • Low mood
  • Depression
  • Poor oral health
  • Pale skin
  • Muscle pain

Summary

Vitamin D is a somewhat underrated vitamin due to its easy availability and lack of awareness regarding its importance. Though sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D, too much sun exposure can also be harmful and lead to skin cancer. However, 10-15 minutes of sun exposure, 2-3 times a week, is more than enough to fulfil your vitamin D requirements. 

Also, wearing too much sunscreen while you are in the sun or sun rays in the car or your office cannot provide you with vitamin D as they completely block the sun’s UV rays. Therefore, if you want to take vitamin D naturally, the early morning hours after sunrise are perfect for soaking in the sunlight. If you live in cold regions or suffer from health problems, then consult a doctor regarding vitamin D supplements to avoid vitamin D deficiency. 

References:

1. Vitamin D – The Calcium Homeostatic Steroid Hormone By Anthony W. Norman

2. www.nejm.org

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Do bananas have vitamin D?

A. Although bananas do not have vitamin D, they are rich in magnesium, which helps activate vitamin D in the body.

Q. Which is the best form of vitamin D?

A. The best form of vitamin D is vitamin D3 or Cholecalciferol. Our body makes vitamin D3 from sunlight.

Q. Does vitamin D make you feel happy?

A. Yes, vitamin D is a mood booster. Unfortunately, people with low amounts of vitamin D often suffer from low mood and depression.

Q. Does vitamin D improve sleep?

A. Yes, a good amount of vitamin D during the day can give you a good night’s sleep. But, conversely, lack of vitamin D may lead to poor sleep quality.

Q. Do almonds contain vitamin D?

A. There are very few foods that contain vitamin D naturally. However, fortified almond milk is an excellent source of vitamin D.

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