By: April Rixon
With winter now upon us, and the sun only making the rare appearance in the greying skies, attention to good nutrition is more vital now than at any other time of year. These next few months bring with them not only the risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SADS), but the risk of Vitamin D deficiency as well.
All year round, the sun (when not blocked by fog and smog) provides us with Vitamin D, which aids immune function, reduces inflammation and regulates phosphate levels in the body. Most importantly, the body requires Vitamin D for the absorption of calcium. As we all know, calcium is what makes our teeth and bones strong and healthy. A lack of Vitamin D increases the risk of diseases such as rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults.
Different countries have different Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for Vitamin D, but the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies recommends an intake of 600 units per day for adults, 400 for babies up to one year of age and 700 for the elderly. RDA increases for those that are either pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as people of African, African-Caribbean or South Asian descent. People that are not regularly exposed to sunlight because of their lifestyle (i.e. office workers) or environment (i.e. city dwellers) are particularly susceptible to suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency.
The biggest challenge is that there are very few natural food sources for Vitamin D, and getting a sufficient amount from diet alone requires meticulous meal planning. Luckily for us, many foods are now fortified with various vitamins and minerals, although it varies by location and brand. Be sure to always read the labels, and stay informed.
Most food sources of Vitamin D are found in non-vegetarian foods. Cereal, orange juice, milk, yoghurt and baby foods are the most commonly fortified. One of the best sources is salmon, which contains a whopping 450 units in a single 3 ounce serving. Canned tuna fish, swordfish, entire sardines and eggs with the yolks are also great options. Mushrooms are the perfect vegetarian alternative to fish, but only if you choose the right ones. Just like humans, mushrooms produce Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but nowadays most are grown in the dark. However, there are some specific brands that are grown in ultraviolet light, such as Dole’s Portobello Mushrooms that contain 400 units per cup.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin: it needs fat to be able to be absorbed by the body. Maybe it’s no coincidence then that it’s found in fatty fish. Cook mushrooms in olive oil and take multi-vitamins containing good fats, like nuts and avocado, with meals. Getting your nutrients from a clean and balanced diet is best, but cod liver oil or Vitamin D supplements or drops are good alternatives as well, especially for children that are picky eaters. As always, if you’re planning to change your diet or take supplements, consult with your doctor first.
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