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 the benefits of Vitamin D can be 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 incredible benefits of getting enough of the sunny vitamin.
Because what vitamin do we get from the sun? Vitamin D, obviously (yay to us living in the UK, the not-so-sunny capital of the world).
Now don’t forget, even on the quest for Vitamin D in sunnier climes, you need to use an SPF sun cream you can trust to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays. And don’t worry, in addition to sunlight, we can get Vitamin D from food and supplements.
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 the 10 best vitamin D foods. Below is everything you need to know – from the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency to whether it’s actually 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 nutritionist 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.’
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.
Can Vitamin D Boost fertility?
Sunlight can boost fertility, according to new research that claims vitamin D can balance sex hormones in women and improve sperm count in men.
The findings suggest some couples could be undergoing unnecessary and costly fertility treatments when spending time in the sunshine could be more beneficial.
‘People could either spend more time outside in the sun – or take vitamin D supplements, which are a safe and cheap way to increase levels,’ says lead author Dr Elisabeth Lerchbaum.
The researchers at the Medical University of Graz in Austria found that women ovulate less and their eggs have a reduced chance of implanting in the womb in the winter months.
‘The vast majority of people in this country – around 86 per cent – are getting less than the optimum levels,’ says Oliver Gillie, director of the Health Research Forum.
Leading fertility expert, Zita West, agrees. ‘Vitamin D is becoming increasingly important for fertility,’ she says. ‘Having done over 800 vitamin D tests, we have found that around 70 per cen of our clients are deficient. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to obesity, poly cystic ovaries and immune disorders.’
Mr Gullie advises couples trying to get pregant arrange a sunshine holiday or spend time in the garden this summer before going down the expensive route of IVF.
Vitamin D and the Pill
Speaking about fertility, a recent study has found that being on the Pill can increase your levels of vitamin D.
This is especially good news for women in the UK where according to Public Health England, one in five British adults are not getting enough vitamin D due to the lack of bright sunshine here.
However, taking hormonal contraceptives may actually increase your vitamin D levels by up to 20%. That may not be as much as the 50-70% increase that a supplement will give you, but it’s still a bonus if it’s raining outside then.
However, this information is particularly important if you’re looking to conceive. If a woman already has low vitamin D levels, coming off the pill may cause a potentially harmful drop to an even lower level. Vitamin D is important for both you and your baby, as it’s needed for foetal skeletal growth so check with your doctor whether you need to take extra supplements.
10 vitamin D rich foods to incorporate into your diet…
Salmon is the best vitamin D rich food out there (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 yoghurt 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. Wait… stop! Before you go eating it by the block raw, you need to do something to the tofu (like marinade it).
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 us the cannelloni…
Is there such a thing as having too much vitamin D?
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.’
Do vitamin D supplements work and should I be taking them?
‘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.’
Vitamin D deficiency. Am I at risk?
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 are at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
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. Here are the best skin supplements out there.
6. People who spend much of their time indoors or cover their skin.