Birds aren’t the only thing that seems to disappear during winter in Ohio. By February, we’re all wondering if the sun, with its mood-lifting magic and healthy goodness of vitamin D, will ever make an appearance again.
Winter’s blanket of gray makes it tough to get the recommended twice-a-week, five to 30 minutes of vitamin D-rich sun exposure. Fortunately for Midwesterners and other sun-starved locations, there are foods up to the task of providing the vitamin D we need.
Why Do We Need Vitamin D, and How Much is Enough?
Vitamin D is a hard-working vitamin that plays an important role in good health. Vitamin D helps:
- Build and maintain strong bones
- Regulate the immune system
- Lower blood pressure
- Protect against depression, dementia and Parkinson’s Disease
- Reduce the risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer
When it comes to brain health, Vitamin D plays an important role. “Research has shown if your Vitamin D levels are lower, the damage from a stroke can be more severe,” says Douglas Woo, MD, an OhioHealth neurologist. And when your body has sufficient Vitamin D, your brain benefits. “Recent studies have suggested that sufficient Vitamin D levels may help preserve cognitive function later in life,” adds Woo.
Why the focus on vitamin D? There’s a good chance you’re not getting enough. According to a national study, 40 percent of people in the U.S. aren’t. The Institute of Medicine’s Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for vitamin D each day are:
- 400 IU* for 0-12 month-olds
- 600 IU for 1-70-year-olds
- 800 IU for 71-year-olds and older
A 2014 study found that those recommendations may be low, however, and adults may need up to 10 times more than recommended. Woo tells us our bodies can produce up 10,000 IU a day if given sufficient sun exposure.
Let Food Feed You the Vitamin D You Need
You don’t have to depend on the sun or supplements to get the vitamin D you need for good health. Even though foods that offer the most vitamin D on their own aren’t the most popular (cod liver oil, anyone?), you can eat your way to getting the vitamin D you need. In the U.S., fortified foods — milk and other dairy products, orange juice, and ready-to-eat cereals — provide most of the vitamin D we need. Remember, every little bit adds up.
Food Sources of Vitamin D
Looking for a more extensive list of foods with vitamin D? Check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Database website.
*IU stands for international units. It’s a measure of the potency of the vitamin rather than its mass or volume.