Why is Vitamin D important?
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for overall health and is found in every cell of our body. It plays a role in effective calcium and phosphate absorption which is vital for maintaining bone health and muscle function so it helps to prevent osteoporosis and rickets. Low Vitamin D levels can contribute to softened bones, increased risk of falls, poor immunity and the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancers.
People at greatest risk of Vitamin D deficiency include:
- Dark skinned or from a Non-European background
- Those who complete less than 2.5 hours of outdoor physical activity per week
- People who cover up their skin for religious purposes
- People who have Crohn’s or Coeliac Disease as these conditions affect Vitamin D absorption
So, how do we ensure that we get enough Vitamin D during the winter period?
Many people with Vitamin D deficiency are unsure of its causes. Therefore, here are some helpful tips for increasing your Vitamin D levels:
- Get more sun exposure. UV radiation from the sun is the best source of Vitamin D. When the sunlight hits our skin, this triggers our body to make Vitamin D. For the winter months, it is recommended to obtain 2 -3 hours of sun exposure over the week, with bare arms in the sun! People with naturally darker skin may require a larger amount of sun exposure to obtain enough Vitamin D.
- Regular physical activity. Being physically active can increase the production of Vitamin D in the body. Try to engage in regular exercise at least 5 days/week.
- Eating Vitamin D rich foods. Few foods contain Vitamin D so food only makes a small contribution to Vitamin D levels. Food sources include eggs, liver, fatty fish (e.g. mackerel, herring and salmon) and cheese. Some margarine, butters and milks have added Vitamin D.
- Eating Calcium rich foods. This is important because calcium works with Vitamin D to strengthen bones. High quality food sources include dairy products, leafy vegetables, fish, tofu, Brazil nuts and almonds.
If you suspect Vitamin D deficiency, it is recommended to consult with your doctor who will conduct a blood test to check your levels. Doctors may prescribe Vitamin D supplements to increase your levels. However, these should only be taken as advised.
For more information, our Accredited Practising Dietitians’ at Eat for Wellness can provide you with tailored advice on how to meet your Vitamin D levels. Time to get out of house and explore the outdoors – take up every opportunity this winter to get some sun exposure.
Vicki is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and Sports Dietitian graduated from the University of Newcastle with a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is the Founding Director of Eat for Wellness, a private practice based in Melbourne. Check out Eat For Wellness here and Vicki on Instagram here.