A “Nutrient of Concern”: Vitamin D

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Guest post by Mary Lamp, BA Exercise Science, Eastern Michigan University dietetics undergraduate

The human body needs over 40 nutrients for optimal health. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, five of the 40 (or so) nutrients are “nutrients of concern”—those that are essential to health but are often under-consumed. They are: vitamin D, calcium, potassium, fiber and iron. A lack of these nutrients prompts public health concern. For example, if one isn’t consuming enough vitamin D, a deficiency may occur, causing higher risk for illness such as bone disorders or cancer.

To get adequate amounts of these key nutrients, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends eating a variety of foods and beverages from all of the food groups: fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and protein (although not a food group, fats also are important to health).

Today, I extol the benefits of vitamin D.

4 Fast Facts:

  1. Vitamin D is called the “Sunshine Vitamin” because with sun exposure to the skin, vitamin D is produced.
  2. Vitamin D regulates phosphorus and calcium in the body, which helps keep bones strong, among other health functions.
  3. Vitamin D deficiency is common.
  4. Vitamin D may be obtained from foods such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna, herring, and mackerel) and egg yolks, or through vitamin D fortified foods like milk, some yogurts, soy beverages, margarine, juices (orange juice, in particular), and breakfast cereals.

The “all-naturale” approach—direct sunlight—is an important source of vitamin D. But be sure not to overdo sun exposure. Fifteen minutes per day without sunscreen is suggested. If you stay outside for longer periods of time, apply sunscreen appropriately.

Why are we not getting enough vitamin D?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that many people have low vitamin D status because of lessened sun exposure and lower than recommended consumption of certain vitamin D rich foods. Many people apply sunscreen before heading outdoors; when the weather is cold, people cover up with layers of clothes. Either way, we are preventing our bodies from manufacturing vitamin D from the sun’s rays. Even in sunny climates, many people don’t get enough vitamin D. Web MD reports as many as 40% of older people in sunny climates such as Florida aren’t getting enough vitamin D. Moreover, as age increases, the skin doesn’t manufacture vitamin D as efficiently.

What does vitamin D do?

Besides the aforementioned, vitamin D assists in risk reduction of cancer, cavities, rheumatoid arthritis, respiratory infections, multiple sclerosis, tooth loss, and bone loss; it also may help manage weight. Vitamin D positively influences bone sturdiness, helps prevent osteoporosis and falls in the elderly, and moderates blood pressure (when combined with calcium).

How much vitamin D do we need?

Children need 600 International Units (IU), or 15 micrograms (mcg) per day. Vitamin D decreases risk of rickets (softened, distorted bones causing bow leg) in youngsters. Adults need 600 IU, which can prevent osteomalacia (softened bones). Those 70 years of age or older require 800 IU, or 20 mcg. An excessive vitamin D intake is 4,000 IU, or 100 mcg.

Examples of vitamin D rich foods and IUs per serving:

  • Milk (whole, non-fat, vitamin D fortified) 1 cup: 115-124 IU
  • Orange juice (vitamin D fortified) 1 cup: 137 IU
  • Salmon (cooked) 3 ounces: 566 IU
  • Tuna fish (canned in water, drained) 3 ounces: 154 IU
  • Egg (vitamin D is in the yolk) 1 large: 41 IU

It is often difficult to get enough vitamin D through food, so supplements may be necessary. For further insight, discuss your vitamin D needs with your doctor.

Vitamin D is one of the many wonders of the nutrition world. Visiting this wonder regularly, both through adequate (yet safe) sun exposure and a balanced diet, will support your journey toward better health.





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