Natural Sources of Vitamin D

Natural Sources of Vitamin D

Three out of four people living in India likely have a vitamin D deficiency. Spending most of your time indoors with inadequate exposure to sunlight and changing food habits has caused a rampant increase in cases of vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients that helps in the healthy functioning of your body.  It plays a key role in maintaining strong bones, teeth, muscles, and supporting the immune system. Therefore, it is important to monitor and maintain adequate levels of this essential nutrient.

So, how can you increase your vitamin D levels? And how can you tell if you require more in the first place?

Here's everything you need to know about ensuring sufficient vitamin D intake, and the best natural sources of vitamin D.

How to Spot a Vitamin D Deficiency?

Spotting a vitamin D deficiency can be challenging since its symptoms can be subtle and nonspecific.  However, there are several signs and risk factors that may indicate a deficiency. These include:

  • Often feeling tired, and your muscles seem weaker than usual.
  • Aches and pains in your bones or back.
  • Getting sick more often than usual.
  • Feeling down or experiencing mood swings without an apparent reason.
  • Cuts and wounds take longer to heal.
  • Increased hair shedding or thinning.

These symptoms may not consistently indicate a vitamin D deficiency, as they can be caused by several health issues and many individuals with a deficit may have no symptoms at all. That is why the only way to confirm the deficiency is to have a blood test and an official diagnosis from a physician.

The normal range for vitamin D levels in the blood is measured in nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL). The optimal range may vary but generally falls between 30 and 50 ng/mL.

How Much Vitamin D Should You Take?

The amount of vitamin D you need depends on factors such as your age, health condition, and lifestyle. For most people, including children (1-13 years), teens, pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, and adults up to 70 years old, around 600 IU of vitamin D per day is recommended. Infants under one year may need 400 IU daily, while older adults over 70 should aim for 800 IU.

Certain individuals, such as breastfed infants, older adults, people with dark skin, digestive disorders, obesity, gastric bypass surgery, chronic kidney or liver disease, and those on specific medications, may be at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency and might need higher levels.

Natural Sources of Vitamin D

There are three main ways to raise your vitamin D levels: sunlight, diet, and supplementation. Here's everything you need to know about each.

1. Get Sunlight Exposure

Sunlight is the best natural source of vitamin D, and spending time outdoors can significantly boost your levels of this essential vitamin. When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it produces vitamin D through a natural process. The ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun interact with a substance called 7-dehydrocholesterol in your skin which then triggers the synthesis of vitamin D3.

When to Take Sunlight?

To maximize the benefits of sunlight for vitamin D production, it's advisable to spend time outdoors during specific times of the day. In India, the best time is usually from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. throughout the year.  During this period, UVB rays are direct, which makes them more efficient for your skin to produce vitamin D.

How Much Sunlight is Enough?

Although sunlight can boost vitamin D you need to be careful as prolonged exposure is linked to skin cancer. About 10 to 30 minutes of sunlight exposure on your face, arms, back, or legs three times per week is sufficient. However, be cautious not to overexpose yourself to the sun to avoid the risk of sunburn and skin damage. Sensible sun exposure is a simple and one of the most effective natural sources of vitamin D.

2. Increase Your Intake of Naturally Rich Vitamin D Foods

It may not always be feasible to have sufficient year-round sun exposure. That’s why consuming foods rich in vitamin D is a great way to boost your vitamin D levels naturally.

Here are 4 nutritious foods high in Vitamin D.

  • Mushrooms: Wild mushrooms such as shiitake and maitake, can naturally produce vitamin D when they are exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet light. Including mushrooms once a week in your meals can help to increase your vitamin D levels. One cup of these mushrooms provides 40.6 IU of vitamin D, which is 5% of the Daily Value (DV).
  • Cheese: Certain types of cheese, such as Swiss and cheddar, naturally contain vitamin D, though in relatively small amounts. Including cheese in your diet can be a tasty way to boost your vitamin D levels. A 100-gram serving of cheddar cheese contains around 8–24 IU of vitamin D.
  • Fortified Foods: Many foods, such as certain brands of milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereals, are fortified with vitamin D. Fortified foods are products that are enriched with specific nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals to enhance their nutritional content. Check the labels to ensure that the products you choose are fortified and can contribute to your daily vitamin D intake.
  • Soy Products: Soy products, such as tofu and soy milk, are often fortified with vitamin D. If you are a vegetarian, especially a vegan, including these foods in your diet a couple of times a week can be a delicious way to increase your vitamin D intake.

3. Take Vitamin D Supplements

If you find it difficult to get enough vitamin D through sunlight or diet, supplements can be a convenient solution, especially if you're deficient in this essential vitamin. There are two types, D2 and D3, and both are equally effective, but some studies suggest that D3 may have a longer-lasting impact. Vitamin D3 tablets take around 24 hours to raise your blood levels.

To improve its absorption, consider taking supplements with meals containing healthy fats, as this vitamin is fat-soluble. This approach is particularly beneficial if you have conditions like Crohn's or celiac disease that affect fat absorption. Incorporate supplements into your routine consistently, especially during seasons with limited sunlight or if you have specific dietary restrictions.

Although rare, it is possible to overdose on vitamin D through supplements. Excessive vitamin D can lead to elevated levels of calcium in the blood, potentially causing harm to organs and blood vessels. Therefore, it is always advised to consult a doctor to ensure a healthy and balanced intake of this vital nutrient.

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Maintaining a balance between sunlight exposure, dietary sources, and supplements is key to ensuring an adequate intake of vitamin D. Spending time outdoors can help the body produce vitamin D from sunlight, but relying solely on this method may not always be sufficient.

While supplements are beneficial, they should not replace a balanced diet and exposure to sunlight whenever possible. Achieving a healthy balance of sunlight, nutritious foods, and supplements is the recipe for maintaining overall well-being. A combination of each of these natural sources of vitamin D contributes to a holistic and sustainable way of meeting your vitamin D requirements.

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