Vitamin D’s important health benefits – LA Daily News
Bottle and glass of milk
Most of us are aware that vitamin D is an essential nutrient that our bodies need to function properly. Current research shows a relationship between vitamin D deficiency and numerous health problems. You may even be taking a vitamin D supplement. However, what is unclear is how much vitamin D we need to be taking in daily for good health and what are the best sources.
While vitamins are defined as chemicals that the body cannot produce and so must be obtained from food, vitamin D, a pro-hormone, was discovered and named before vitamins were defined this way. So, actually, vitamin D is technically not a vitamin because, unlike other vitamins, vitamin D comes in various forms and is primarily made in the skin from sunlight exposure.
Vitamin D increases the intestinal absorption of calcium and low levels of vitamin D can lead to bone fractures. However, vitamin D is not just about bone health, it is involved in countless physiological processes in the human body. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that low vitamin D levels in childhood is related to increased heart disease in adulthood. Vitamin D is also important for brain health and may even protect against cancer.
If you check your blood levels of vitamin D, you may be surprised to find out that your levels are low. There are many factors that can increase risk of vitamin D deficiency, including having darker skin pigmentation, living at higher altitudes, kidney disease, advanced age, intestinal malabsorption, and lack of sunlight. Although we experience extremely pleasant weather year round living in Southern California, most of us get limited amounts of sunlight. Busy lifestyles keep us indoors and the use of cover-ups and sunscreen when enjoying the outdoors blocks out potential sun exposure.
Because many natural foods are low in vitamin D, relying on diet can be an insufficient approach to obtaining adequate amounts of this vitamin. For example, egg yolks, beef liver and cheese contain small amounts of vitamin D, but these are foods that many people already limit for health reasons. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna as well as fish liver oils are rich in vitamin D. In fact, most of the vitamin D in the American diet is from foods that are fortified such as dairy products and breakfast cereals.
Milk alternatives like soy milk and almond milk are often fortified with vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals. To make sure your milk substitute is a good source of vitamin D, look for the word “fortified” and steer away from products labeled “classic,” which have not had nutrients added.
The Institute of Medicine recommends 600 IU per day of vitamin D for most people and 800 IU per day for folks more than 70 years old. To put this advice into perspective, a 3-ounce portion of sockeye salmon provides about 450 IUs of vitamin D. However, many researchers believe that much more vitamin D is needed to maintain optimal blood levels of this nutrient.
If you are unsure if you are maintaining proper vitamin D levels, speak to your physician about it and discuss how to balance sunlight exposure and skin protection. A registered dietitian can help you improve your dietary intake of vitamin D and consider the options for supplementation.
LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietitian, provides nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and businesses. She can be reached at RD@halfacup.com.