Enough Vitamin D: A Challenge

Why is vitamin D important?

A large percentage of people worldwide are not meeting their vitamin D requirements.  Doctors and dietitians have known for decades that this nutrient is important for bone health, but the list of reasons why we need optimal levels is growing. Researchers note an extensive list which includes warding off cancer, heart disease, depression, dementia, certain skin diseases, and high blood pressure. As vitamin D receptors are everywhere in the body, any part of the body will be affected by a deficiency.

Why we aren’t getting enough to reach our goals?

It’s dubbed the “sunshine” vitamin because we can both make it from sun exposure and get it from food. Given the right circumstances, our bodies are very adept at making this vitamin. Ultraviolet light from the sun shines on a cholesterol compound on our skin, then that compound is transformed into a vitamin D precursor which gets absorbed into the blood. Over the next day, the liver and kidneys finish converting this compound to the active form of vitamin D.

The factors that interfere with making this vitamin are directly related to factors that block our exposure to the sun. Think sunscreen use, air pollution, city living, geography, and dreary winters. Even our skin pigment is a factor as darker-skinned people synthesize less vitamin D than lighter-skinned people.

Making vitamin D with sunshine

Food sources.

So if we cannot make it efficiently, how we can we get it from food? In terms of food sources, it’s interesting to compare sunshine vs. food. According to an old but very interesting 2009 AARP article (unknown author), you would need to eat the following amounts of food just to get the amount the amount of vitamin D your body makes in 10 minutes:

  • 6.5 pounds of mushrooms
  • 150 egg yolk
  • 3.75 pounds of salmon
  • 30 servings of fortified cereal
  • 2 pounds of sardines
  • 30 cups of fortified orange juice

Adult requirements.

While this is an interesting comparison, it is not a realistic diet strategy. The current adult recommendations for vitamin D intake are 600 IUs for those aged 19-70 and 800 IUs for those over 70 years old. Unfortunately,  foods with vitamin D are limited.  Some common foods with vitamin D content include:

  • 566 IU from 3 oz. swordfish
  • 440 IU from 1 tsp. cod liver oil
  • 400 IU from 3 oz. salmon
  • 228 IU from 3 oz tuna
  • 137 IU from 1 cup fortified orange juice
  • 120 IU from 1 cup fortified milk
  • 100 IU from 3/4 cup enriched cereals
  • 40 IU from 1 egg

As you can see, with limited sun exposure and limited foods with vitamin D, it can be challenging to have adequate vitamin levels. This is why supplementation is such a hot topic and why many people end up taking a supplement. The question is, “how much to take?”  A simple blood test determines if you need a supplement and how much to take.

What is your experience with vitamin D levels on your health and how did you determine you needed to supplement your diet?

For more thoughts on supplements for baby boomers.

Winter Weight Gain: 5 Tips to Fight It

Seasonal Affective Disorder sunshine on lady helps her mood, fights winter weight gain

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Winter weight gain frequently comes with the winter season. I have heard repeatedly from clients that all they want to do is keep eating because they feel so “blue” this winter. Occasionally, the clients suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but sometimes clients are just feeling down in the dumps because the winter is so long in the Midwest. So, barring a vacation to the tropics or moving out of state, here are a few steps that can be taken to lift your spirits. Hopefully you can stop inappropriate eating and stop winter weight gain at the same time.

Catch the rays when possible to help your mood and fight winter weight gain

Even the gloomiest areas in the Midwest will occasionally be sunny, so be sure to capitalize on it even if you need to bundle up to do so. Take a walk outside in those rays of sunshine and you will elevate your mood because the exercise and sunshine will affect the balance of key neurotransmitters such as serotonin, melatonin, and endorphins.

Consider blue light therapy when you can’t find sunshine

Along the lines of catching natural light rays, researchers are aware that certain light spectrum, such as blue light, seems to help alleviate SAD. Many free-standing blue lights are available for easy purchase online. When it’s a particularly bleak winter, these lights can be of benefit.

Check your vitamin D levels

Many Americans have inadequate blood vitamin D levels. Research supports that getting your blood vitamin D levels in the right range is ammunition in fighting seasonal affective disorder.  Bleak days and lots of warm bulky clothes limit the body’s ability to make the so-called “sunshine” vitamin, which can be produced by the body when sun shines on a compound on our skin.  If we cannot make it, we are able to supplement our diet with vitamin D.  During winter months, dosages in the 1000-1200 IU range are probably safe for most people who have limited sun exposure. Read here for more information on meeting vitamin D requirements. Read here for more information on meeting vitamin D requirements.

Control your eating environment, which always helps prevent weight gain anytime of year

While waiting for spring weather and freedom from the winter doldrums, don’t undo previous successful weight loss with binge eating just because of SAD or depression.  Control your eating environment at home by ridding it of high temptation and high calorie foods.

Stock your kitchen with healthy, low sodium soups and entrees

They can nourish and “comfort” you appropriately through the rest of the winter. Increase  your consumption of fruits, veggies, and lentils to increase your anti-oxidants and fiber.  Don’t be afraid of opting for frozen fruits and veggies at this time of year. They are just as nutritious as the fresh varieties which are harder to buy in the winter. When the warm weather comes, you will be happy that you did not pile on the weight due to winter blues.

Here’s to wrapping up winter. It’s almost March! Remember, an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By watching your diet this winter, you will be in a better position both mentally and physically for spring when it springs!