How Much Vitamin D You Really Need — and the Best Places to Get It

We used to get all our vitamin D from two main sources: sunlight and food. But spending fewer hours outdoors and the rise in processed food manufacturing (and consumption) has put many of us at risk of deficiency.

Now, supplements are all the rage. As if everyone only needs to take a pill to suffice all their dietary needs.

While some health conditions, such as obesity, warrant the use of vitamin D supplementation in various forms, we don’t all need as much of it as we might think.

An insufficient amount of vitamin D has been blamed for a handful of diseases and conditions — everything from chronic pain and fatigue to depression. And in many cases, vitamin D through sunlight, other forms of UV light, and supplements can help relieve people’s worst symptoms and improve their quality of life.

It turns out that for most people, though, a vitamin D deficiency isn’t a huge concern.


Supplements | areeya_ann/iStock/Getty Images

Why are we so obsessed with vitamin D? An article published in the New York Times pointed to a study that showed more people than ever were receiving blood tests due to feelings of fatigue, weakness, and other symptoms.

This persisted even though there’s not much reliable evidence supporting the idea that vitamin D can treat or prevent conditions like heart disease or cancer, or ailments like muscle weakness or fatigue.

In reality, you only need approximately 600 international units of vitamin D per day if you’re a young adult, and 800 IU per day if you’re older than 70. Many people, depending on your location, skin tone, and health status, can get the vitamin D they need from sunlight.

While it’s true that not getting enough vitamin D can hurt — — it’s also possible to consume too much. When this happens, it’s called vitamin D toxicity, and it’s pretty terrible.

Most health experts agree that if you don’t have a medical condition that affects your ability to absorb the nutrient, you probably don’t need to take it. Not as many people are as “deficient as it might appear.


Sunscreen | RossHelen/Getty Images

It’s possible to find yourself in vitamin toxicity if you take too much in supplement form. But it’s much more difficult to consume toxic levels from food or UV rays. Here are a few safe — and in some cases, delicious — ways to get more vitamin D in your life.

  • The sun. Too much sun exposure over time increases your risk of skin cancer. But you technically only need 15 to 25 minutes of sun every day, depending on where you live, to absorb a sufficient amount of vitamin D. Thankfully, sunlight isn’t the only “natural” way to get enough of the vitamin into your system.
  • Certain types of fish. Sources such as salmon and canned white tuna aren’t just quality sources of vitamin D. They also contain the “good” types of fat that promote heart and brain health. If you’re looking for a new way to eat your vitamins — without fortified cereals or cow’s milk — give fatty fish a chance.
  • Egg yolks. Only people at risk of developing high cholesterol or who already have it need to worry about the cholesterol in egg yolks. Eating only the whites takes out most of the nutritional value of the yolk, including vitamin D supplementation, protein, and healthy fats.
  • Supplements — but only if you really need them. Because too much vitamin D can become toxic, consult your doctor before choosing the right supplement for you.

If you really think you’re vitamin D deficient, you can consult your doctor. If they discover or rule out other possible causes for your symptoms, they might recommend some or all of these methods anyway to help relieve your pain, feelings of sadness, tiredness, and more.

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