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Avoid Vitamin D Deficiency This Winter With These 4 Key Steps

December 15, 2023

The sunshine vitamin is easy to obtain during the warmer months, but what exactly do you do when going outside isn’t exactly a pleasant option? Especially when a recent study found that vitamin D deficiency can actually lead to premature death.

The study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine by researchers at the University of South Australia, found a connection between low vitamin D levels and mortality, including increased risk of respiratory disease. However, the risk of earlier death significantly decreased for subjects with increased vitamin D concentrations.

But how can a person be deficient in vitamin D if it just takes standing in the sun for a few minutes? Unfortunately, obtaining enough vitamin D isn’t always that simple.

First, the weather is a major benefactor of vitamin D deficiency. Fewer people are inclined to go outside when the weather is cold, which makes sense as to why many people experience seasonal depression during the winter months without vitamin D providing that boost in serotonin and dopamine—i.e. the “happy hormones.”

Second, vitamin D can’t be obtained with the use of sunscreen. While SPF is beneficial for protecting our skin from developing certain types of cancers, it also blocks the body from synthesizing the vitamin D that comes from UVB light.

Third, mobility can be an issue for some. Vitamin D is an essential vitamin for calcium absorption, which is particularly beneficial for maintaining strong bones as you get older. However, if a senior is not able to easily get outside in order to get that vitamin D boost (or is meticulously told by a skin doctor to protect their skin with SPF), getting that vitamin D can be rather complicated.

How much vitamin D do you need in a day?

According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin D for anyone ages 1 to 70 is 15 micrograms, or 600 international units (IU). The amount will slightly increase for anyone over the age of 70 for an extra bone-building boost, at 20 micrograms (800 IU).

So with the changing weather—as well as other contributing factors that limit someone from getting their vitamin D needs—here are a few easy steps to take to avoid vitamin D deficiency this time of year and get the RDA that you need.

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1. Incorporate vitamin D-rich foods.

Although Vitamin D isn’t as commonly found in dietary sources compared to other vitamins, it is still prevalent in certain foods that you can easily incorporate into your diet. Here are a few you can easily add to your meals.

  • Fatty fish: One of the easiest forms of getting vitamin D through food is fatty fish—particularly the flesh of the fish. Vitamin D is absorbed in the flesh, so don’t be afraid to eat the skin to get those nutrients. Fatty fish includes trout (645 IU in 3 ounces), salmon (570 IU), swordfish (566 IU), yellowfin tuna (70 IU), and sardines (46 IU in two sardines). Fish liver oils—like cod liver—also contain quite a bit of vitamin D (1,360 in a single tablespoon).
  • Eggs: Don’t skip out on the yolk! That’s where the densest number of nutrients comes from, including vitamin D. One large egg contains 44 IU. Scramble up two eggs and you have around 15% of your daily value in breakfast alone!
  • Mushrooms: Specifically the kind that has been exposed to UV light. Eat a 1/2 cup of raw mushrooms that had light exposure and you’ll end up with 366 IU in a serving—just over half of your daily value.
  • Beef liver and cheese: While small, both of these foods do offer some vitamin D. Three ounces of beef liver offer 42 IU, while cheddar cheese offers 17 IU with one ounce.

2. Look for foods fortified with vitamin D.

Because vitamin D deficiency is so prevalent among many consumers, easy-to-access foods have been fortified with this vital vitamin in order to get people the nutrients they need. Some foods that have been fortified include milk, plant-based milk alternatives, ready-to-eat cereals, and juice. These products usually provide anywhere between 40 to 120 IU in a serving. Be sure to look for a label that specifies that the item has been fortified to ensure you are getting that vitamin D.

It’s important to note that the vitamin D offered in fortified foods is just vitamin D2. While the sun does provide both sources of this vitamin, different dietary sources do not. Vitamin D2 comes from plants, fungi, and fortified foods, while vitamin D3 comes from animal sources. That’s why it’s important to get a mix of these foods into the diet to ensure you are getting good sources of both.

3. Go for a walk.

If you are fortunate enough to be mobile, there’s still a major benefit of getting outside for a walk to soak up some rays. However, the skin does need to be exposed to the sun in order for the vitamin to synthesize.

Experts say you need 5 to 30 minutes of sun exposure on either the face, arms, hands, and legs without sunscreen during peak sunlight hours—between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This can be difficult to achieve if the weather is blisteringly cold, so be sure to plan to go for a walk on days that are a touch warmer to get that sun exposure on your skin.

On the other hand, the sun provides the body with so much vitamin D that you’ll only need to go for a walk twice a week in order to avoid vitamin D deficiency.

Now does sitting by a sunny window count for vitamin D exposure? Unfortunately, no. UVB light does not penetrate through a glass window, so a sunny spot on a cold day still won’t get you what you need.

4. Take a vitamin D supplement.

While many experts do say that taking supplements isn’t meant to be the solution for dietary intake (doctors and dietitians recommend eating whole foods instead), in the case of vitamin D during the winter months, it actually may be beneficial.

While most vitamin D supplements typically focus on vitamin D3, there are some that offer vitamin D2 in the supplement as well. Many brands will offer a range of different IU amounts, some even exceeding the daily value of 600 IU.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that vitamin D supplements don’t need to be consumed every day. The amount of vitamin D you consume will not deplete by the end of the day; your body will use it over a longer period of time. So if you take a vitamin D supplement with 5,000 IU, that will last you a week or so before needing to take it again.

Does the amount matter? Actually, yes. Too much vitamin D in the system can cause toxicity. This is due to a buildup of calcium in your blood known as hypercalcemia, which can cause nausea and vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination, according to the Mayo Clinic.

That’s why it is vital to talk to a medical professional before taking adding any supplement to your daily regimen, including vitamin D—even if you are looking to avoid vitamin D deficiency.

Read next: 6 Low-Carb Casseroles Perfect for Cozy Winter Meals

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