Why You Need More Vitamin D
BY: Susan Male-Smith
“I drink a lot of milk, so I’m probably fine.” So says Boston resident Doug Bennett in response to all the recent attention given to vitamin D. But like most Americans with the same ho-hum reaction, he’s oh-so-wrong. Why? Milk and other foods don’t contain nearly enough vitamin D to meet most people’s needs, and while your body actually makes its own vitamin D from sunlight, people are spending more and more time indoors -- and when we do go out, we slather on sunscreen, which protects against skin cancer but also prevents vitamin D production. And now that we’re heading into winter ... well, you can see where this is heading.
Americans Don’t Get Enough Vitamin D
An alarming three out of four Americans are seriously short of vitamin D, according to the results of a recent study conducted at the University of Colorado. Moreover, a new study published in the September issue of Pediatrics reports that 70 percent of children don’t get enough D.
While today’s vitamin D shortfalls are less dramatic than the severe, rickets-producing deficiencies of the past, it’s far more insidious. Researchers have found that insufficient vitamin D has serious, far-reaching ramifications, including higher risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, respiratory infections (such as colds and flu), pregnancy complications, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and even dementia.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
While the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is still 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day, nearly every expert will tell you that’s simply not enough, and you can bet the RDA will change next year when a government panel weighs in. “Most Americans need at least 1,000 IU a day,” says Dr. Adit Ginde, a specialist on vitamin D and lead researcher of the University of Colorado study, “and many require even higher doses.” So to make sure you get enough of this essential nutrient:
- Take a vitamin D supplement. Michael Holick, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Vitamin D Laboratory at Boston University, recommends 1,000 to 2,000 IU daily, especially in the fall, winter and spring. And don’t worry about getting too much; one study found that 10,000 IU a day is safe, even when taken for a year.
- When buying supplements, be sure to look for D3 (cholecalciferol), which is much better absorbed than D2 (ergocalciferol).
- Try to get 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun on your arms, neck and face every day. (The risk of harmful effects is small as long as you don’t overdo.)
- Ask your doctor to check the 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels in your blood. For the most accurate results, get tested in the winter, when your D level is at its lowest. Aim for at least 30 ng/mL.
Vitamin D is the new “it” nutrient for a reason. Research shows it does so much more than we thought, at a time when we’re getting far less than we ever did. So enjoy your milk, take a D3 supplement, get some sun and have your D blood level checked. Your body will thank you.
Susan Male-Smith is a registered dietitian and freelance nutrition and health writer. She has written for Family Circle, Redbook, Child and American Health, and she is a former editor of the Environmental Nutrition newsletter and co-author of Foods for Better Health. Susan is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.
Recipe of the Week
- Greek yogurt has twice the protein of regular yogurt because it takes 3 to 4 times more milk to make it. Celebrate June Dairy Month with Greek yogurt topped with fresh berries.
- Bok Choy, also known as Chinese cabbage or pak choi, has been grown in China for over 6,000 years. Choose firm stalks, avoiding brown spots and wilted leaves, and add to stir-fry.
- Apple skin is full of fiber & Alzheimer’s-disease-fighting antioxidants -- so eat it! Refrigerate in a plastic bag away from foods with strong odors; they absorb odors easily.
- Collards, mustard greens and kale are available in bags, pre-washed & chopped -- so they’re easy to steam or saute! Eat your greens as a side dish or in quesadillas, soups & stews.
- Avocados are rich in 20 nutrients and great beyond guacamole. Chop for a ham, egg and cheese wrap; slice for a deli roast beef sandwich; cube and toss into linguini and shrimp.
- Black-eyed Peas: Fresh, canned and frozen varieties are all nutrient-rich options -- making it easier to eat your daily veggies. Rinse and drain canned peas to cut down on salt.
- Ugli Fruit, beautiful benefits! Peel & eat for fiber & vitamin C. Choose fruit heavy for size; dents normal and color not important. Store on counter 5 days or refrigerate 2 weeks.
- Radicchio, also known as Italian chicory, is high in vitamin K for bone health. Great in salads: Choose bright, tender leaves; avoid brown or limp ones. Refrigerate up to 3 days.
- Cherimoya, a high-fiber tropical fruit, tastes like a mix of strawberry and mango. Choose firm, unblemished fruit, cut in wedges and spoon out creamy flesh.
- Kale in lentil soup is a double dose of New Year’s luck! Round-shaped lentils symbolize coins; kale, paper money. Both are packed with antioxidants for a year of healthy fortune.
- Tea is native to China, but Americans invented tea bags and first drank iced tea at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Enjoy hot and reap health benefits from both black & green tea.
- Dried Plums (formerly prunes) may help prevent cancer and decrease inflammation. Slice fruit, stuff with cheese and walnuts, and wrap in prosciutto to make quick party appetizers.
- Oatmeal month is officially January. Cook breakfast oatmeal with 1% milk for extra protein, calcium and vitamin D -- or enjoy whole-grain oatmeal raisin cookies as a smart snack.
- Spices and herbs add antioxidants to every dish. One tsp. ground cinnamon contains as many antioxidants as 1/2 cup blueberries; 1 tsp. yellow curry as many as 1/2 cup red grapes.
- Fish, the best source of omega-3 fats for heart and brain health, may even help ward off depression. Mix canned white tuna, salmon and sardines for an omega-rich seafood salad.
- Orange juice is filled with immune-boosting nutrients that fight colds and the flu: vitamins C and B6, folate, potassium and magnesium. Choose 100% juice with no added sugar.
- Walnuts are a significant source of plant-based omega-3 fats. These fats -- also in ground flaxseed, canola oil and edamame -- provide many heart-healthy benefits.
- Pear, apple and Asian pear slices + yogurt-based dips = winning strategy for game-day parties. Combine Greek vanilla yogurt with chocolate-hazelnut spread for a fast, healthy dip.
- Pumpkin and sweet potato -- fresh, mashed or canned -- adds disease-fighting antioxidants to waffles and pancakes. Use whole-wheat flour to double your fiber and nutrient intake.
- Snack smart to achieve weight loss goals. Choose fast and fully edible fruits like grapes, apples, persimmon and kiwi. Yes, fuzzy kiwi skin is edible! Simply wash and rub dry.
What kind of water do you usually drink?