Surviving Winter Sans the Sun: Eat Your Way to Vitamin D

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It’s the thick of winter and you would do just about anything for some (warm) sunshine. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Throughout the frigid days of January and February, most Americans would do just about anything for some sunshine, seasonal berries, and fresh air, but what they don’t always realize is that their bodies are also likely craving something more — and it comes in the form of vitamin D.

Americans who live in Northern climates get less vitamin D in the winter because the primary way to get the vitamin is by exposing the bare skin to sunlight or ultraviolet rays. Though there is sunlight in the winter, the Vitamin D Council explains that it is more difficult to get vitamin D during the season because during the colder months, the sun’s rays enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a steep angle, the atmosphere blocks the UVB part of the rays, and the skin is kept from producing vitamin D. On the other hand, in the summer, when the Earth rotates, the angle improves and more UVB reaches the places far away from the equator, allowing humans to produce the necessary vitamin D.

Exposing your bare skin to summer sunlight is thus the most natural way to get your body to produce vitamin D, but during the winter months, there are also ways to supplement that so vitamin recommendations are met. The current recommendation for vitamin D is 400-600 IU per day, and different parties recommend different ways for ensuring those requirements are realized during the winter months.

 

While the Vitamin D Council recommends that consumers get their necessary vitamin D by taking supplements, arguing that although the body gets most of the vitamins and minerals it needs from the foods you eat, most foods that contain vitamin D only have small amounts, other expert groups have maintained their stance that a healthy diet can sufficiently satisfy the body’s lack of vitamin D production in the winter. According to USA Todayofficial recommendations for vitamin D supplements are sparse, but experts can at least agree that all breast-fed babies should take a supplement, and those above 65 should look into the vitamin, too.

The Vitamin D Council argues that the recommendations are different because researchers believe that there isn’t enough evidence to support taking higher amounts of vitamin D yet. On the other hand, some researchers believe that research is proving, or will prove, that taking lower amounts isn’t enough.

But regardless of whether experts agree on proper vitamin D recommendations, one thing they all encourage is upping the consumption of vitamin D-rich food in the winter months, helping keep vitamin D levels elevated. Rd.com maintains that from the beginning of October through March, the angle of the sun prevents much of North America from getting vitamin D, and it thus, too, supports the arguments that the consumption vitamin D-rich foods is even that much more essential during the winter months.

So, where should you turn this season for your source of vitamin D, whether you are taking vitamin supplements or not? Rd.com, along with Nutritiondata.selfprovides outlines of foods highest in vitamin D list that almost anyone can find favor with, and both illuminate the IUs of vitamin D in each item. Both publications agree that a great source of vitamin D is fish, especially salmon, oysters, halibut, shrimp, and cod, but the standout winner in this category is the salmon, as it has more than 10IU of vitamin D per ounce,  and thus surpasses all other foods for naturally occurring vitamin D. Even canned salmon is ideal, and 6 ounces has 323 percent of your daily need.

Even those who aren’t particularly keen on fish can find room in their diet for vitamin D, and easily accessible foods like mushrooms are also viable sources of the vitamin. Mushrooms are easy to throw on salads, on top of sandwiches, or in meatier dishes, and RD.com reports that 100 grams of mushrooms provide significant vitamin D, while Dole-produced special Portobello mushrooms are especially ideal.

Also rich in vitamin D is cheese and fortified products. One ounce of swiss cheese has 3 percent of a human’s daily need of vitamin D, while Parmesan and Cheddar have 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively. Also in dairy land, fortified milk, soy milk, and tofu are additional sources, and one cup of 1 percent milk provides 2IU of vitamin D, while one cup of whole milk provides 124IU. Fortified tofu can provide up to 157IU of vitamin D per 100 gram serving, while fortified soy milk can provide up to 49IU per 100 gram serving.

Thus, even in the dark days of winter, it is possible to find food that will help you meet your vitamin D requirements whether or not you decide to supplement your diet with additives. Keeping fish, cheese, milk, and vegetables as staples in your diet won’t necessarily bring the sunshine to your state, but at least it will keep your vitamin D gears grinding.

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