You might wonder why there are so many articles about the importance of getting enough Vitamin D. Why is it so important? Why do we need to make sure we get enough of it when there are so many other vitamins also essential to our health?
There are many more vitamins that are essential to our health like A, B12 and C for example, but the difference is that these vitamins are always found in the same sources, mostly food, so there is no particular season that affects our intake levels as it’s fairly consistent as long as you eat a healthy and varied diet.
The reason we focus on Vitamin D in winter is because there are very few foods it is found naturally in, and we tend to rely on getting our sources from the sunlight (which is the best way) so we don’t necessarily make sure it’s included in our every day diet. In the UK, getting our Vitamin D from direct sunlight is really only possible from the months of April to October. From November to March, when the sunlight (if we get any of it that is) doesn’t even contain enough UVB radiation for our skin to be able to make Vitamin D, we have to try a little harder to make sure we are getting enough from foods and/or supplements. That’s why, according to national surveys (A) in the UK, 1 in 5 of us are deficient.
Vitamins are important for our bodies, they help regulate our systems and keep us healthy, so, when our Vitamin D levels are lower, it can affect our health, immune system, mood and brain function, which is you may be feeling a little less motivated and your mind a little more foggy! Of course, when we have decreased levels over a period of time the accumulation along with other elements, can affect our bodies in different ways such as osteoporosis and depression. Women are more susceptible to osteoporosis later on in life, so it is good to be mindful of the balance your create prior or during our later years.
Well, in the 1930s and 40s, the need for Vitamin D was globally recognised and became so popular that it was added to a many foods, drinks and even some beauty products. In the 1950s however, there was a huge outbreak of hypercalcemia, specifically in children in the UK with birth defects, which was believed to be linked to over fortification of milk with Vitamin D. The more likely explanation, however, is that these children had a syndrome which was associated with a hypersensitivity to Vitamin D. (B)
As you might already know, high levels of some vitamins can be damaging to the health so it was believed that there was simply too much Vitamin D consumption from fortified products, so the UK introduced legislation forbidding fortification which was then quickly adopted by other European countries. It is no longer forbidden, but heavily regulated so there are very few products in the UK that are fortified with Vitamin D. This does not mean that we do not need Vitamin D however, just that we need to be aware how we get it and make sure we get a balanced amount.
When UV-B sunshine rays land on the skin, they are absorbed and are then converted into vitamin D3. So, how about we just sit outside for 10 minutes? That’ll do right?
Well, sadly it’s not that simple, there are lots of other factors that influence the production of vitamin D3 such as, season, latitude, sunscreen use, time of day, skin pigmentation and age.
In order for your skin to convert these UV-B rays into the awesome Vit D3 that we need, it needs to be exposed to direct sunlight (without sunscreen) within the times of 10am to 3pm. Realistically, you don’t need to bake out for hours on end, you only need around 10-15 minutes. And if you have dark skin, then it’s more like 30-40 minutes as your skin has more melanin and is therefore more protected against the sun. (C)
Most of the signs of Vitamin D deficiency are common symptoms that we feel during the Winter months anyway so it’s not always easy to notice. You probably just think, “it’s Winter, I always feel pretty low on energy, tired and achy so I will just deal with it” especially if you have caught a cold or a flu. But remember next time this happens, instead of just thinking “this is totally normal”, look at your diet and make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D as it could help you to feel 100 times better and will ensure good health.
Below are some of the common symptoms of a deficiency;
Well, according to SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition), your recommended daily allowance is 10mcg a day, which is sometimes written in international units (IU) which is equivalent to 400 IU. (D)
Although this doesn’t sound like much, if we look at just a small portion of the regular foods that we eat, you’ll see that very few of them help us acquire that daily Vit D intake. As an example, one large egg provides around 40IUs so you would need 10 eggs a day to get enough…(yeah not doing that!)
It’s even harder for vegans and vegetarians because the type of Vitamin D we need, Vitamin D3, is found pretty much solely in animal products.
If you eat plenty of Vitamin D rich foods like oily fish, egg yolk, meat, offal and fortified products like margarine, some breakfast cereals, yoghurts, AND get enough sensible sun exposure you should be ok. However, it is recommended by many health authorities to take daily supplements to make sure you get enough, especially around Autumn and Winter. So, we might be going against our normal advice of getting all your nutrition from natural sources here, but on this occasion we agree!
Here’s some very tasty and healthy recipes that you can try which will boost your Vitamin D intake. On days that you avoid meat, fish, eggs or fortified products then it is advised to take a supplement.
We hope this article helps you to power through these gloomy months so you can always feel at your best. It’s important to ensure your diet is giving you all the nutrients you need and if you are finding this too difficult to do alongside your normal busy lives, we will be launching a super awesome nutritional programme in the New Year so you can simply follow our shopping list and recipes and see how much of a difference a healthy, balanced diet can make. If you want to be the first to hear about it, you can sign up here to be added to our exclusive VIP list.
(A) British Nutrition Foundation, ‘New advice on vitamin D’ (https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritioninthenews/new-reports/983-newvitamind.html)
(B) Matthias Wacker and Michael F. Holick,‘Sunlight and Vitamin D’ (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3897598/)
(C) Holick MF, Chen TC, Lu Z, Sauter E, Vitamin D and skin physiology: a D-lightful story.’ (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18290718)
(D) SACN, ‘SACN vitamin D and health report’ (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/537616/SACN_Vitamin_D_and_Health_report.pdf)