Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins for good health – which is great if you live in St Lucia. Here’s what to do if you don’t
Yes, you know Vitamin D is good for you, but do you know just how good for you? Well recent research has found that a deficiency is associated with an increased risk in breast cancer among Asian women. Researchers think the vitamin is linked to regulating cell growth and, although the findings aren’t conclusive and more studies are needed, there’s a wealth of evidence to show the benefits of getting enough of the sunny vitamin.
We've spoken to some of the country's top nutritionists to get the lowdown on how we can overcome the UK's serious lack of sunshine with these 10 vitamin D foods. Below is everything you need to know - from the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency to whether it's worth taking a vitamin D supplement.
Why is vitamin D so important?
Vitamin D is known for its essential role in bone health and the way it helps the body absorb calcium, but new research shows this could be just the start of its benefits. 'Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins because it has an abundance of uses,' says in-house nutrionist for health and fitness app lifesum, Lovisa Nilsson. 'Particularly because it also enhances the body's absorption of other vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and phosphate.'
We still need to learn more about the wide-reaching benefits of vitamin D, but recent research suggests that vitamin D can help with a range of health problems. 'We need more robust data,' says Mel Wakeman, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition & Applied Physiology at Birmingham City University. 'But vitamin D may also have roles in preventing health problems such as cancers, heart disease, diabetes and viral infections.'
So what are the symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency?
Sunshine is the main source of vitamin D, but during the winter months in the UK, 90 per cent of the population don't get enough exposure to the right amount of UVB. 'Spending 20-30 minutes between 11am and 3pm in the sun each day from April to September should enable us to make enough vitamin D to meet our requirements,' says Mel Wakeman. 'But for the rest of the year we have a much heavier reliance on dietary sources.'
You probably won't be able to tell if you have a vitamin D deficiency, but according to world-renowned dermatologist Dr. Howard Murad, general symptoms can include 'fatigue, muscle pain and weakness, weight gain, poor concentration, restless sleep, and headaches.' If you're worried, your GP can do a blood test to check your levels.
Here are 10 vitamin D foods to incorporate into your diet
This is the top hitter for vitamin D (wild salmon has more than farmed salmon, FYI). Just half a fillet of salmon has more than the daily recommended allowance for one person.
Most types of cow's milk is fortified with vitamin D. You can also buy yoghurts and other dairy products that have been fortified (usually whole milk not semi-skimmed).
Two large free-range eggs can hold about one-eighth of your recommended dose of vitamin D.
If you include a large handful of mushrooms to your meal you are looking at a significant amount of vitamin D, especially if they have been exposed to sunlight.
Tinned fish, such as tuna or sardines, contain over a quarter of the recommended amount of vitamin D.
Pork ribs, in particular, are rich in vitamin D (yay!) but be careful about the fat content (damn!).
Similarly to milk, cereals are often fortified with Vitamin D, particularly ones aimed at children, but it does vary so check the label.
One fifth of a block of raw tofu has lots of lovely Vitamin D in it. No, stop! You need to do something to the tofu...don't go eating it raw like that because it will taste...oh. You might want something to wash that down with.
9 Orange juice
One cup of fortified orange juice has more Vitamin D than a cup of fortified milk.
10 Ricotta cheese
Ricotta has more than five times the amount of Vitamin D than other cheeses. Pass the cannelloni.
Consuming too much vitamin D is very rare. 'It shouldn't be a problem because your body only makes as much vitamin D as it needs,' says nutrition expert Mel Wakeman. 'Vitamin D toxicity is uncommon and usually only affects people who have been taking vitamin D supplements well above the recommended dosage for several months.'
Should I be taking a vitamin D supplement?
'Because symptoms are rare or go unnoticed, vitamin D deficiency is more common than you think,' says Dr Murad. 'But always check with your doctor first before you start taking a vitamin D supplement.'
Mel Wakeman adds that in November 2014 NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) produced guidelines which recommend certain at-risk groups take a daily vitamin D supplement. These include:
1 All pregnant and breastfeeding women.
2 All babies and young children from 6 months to 5 yrs should take a daily supplement containing vitamin D in the form of vitamin drops. But, babies fed up to a pint of infant formula will not need vitamin drops as the formula is already fortified.
3 Breastfed infants may need to receive drops containing vitamin D from one month of age, if their mother has not taken vitamin D supplements throughout pregnancy.
4 People aged 65 years and over and people who are not exposed to much sun should also take a daily vitamin D supplement.
5 People with a darker skin tone will require a greater amount of sunlight exposure as the process of making Vitamin D takes longer so may benefit from a supplement.
6 People who spend much of their time indoors or cover their skin.