Sunlight and Vitamin D: What You Should Know

April 4, 2023

We are well into winter at this point, and while it’s almost over, the days are still shorter, the weather is colder, and we are trying to shake those stubborn winter blues. If you’ve found yourself feeling low this season, there’s one nutrient that may be to blame: vitamin D. Ensuring you get an adequate amount of this essential nutrient is crucial for overall health and nutrition, especially during the darker and colder months.

What is the Connection Between Sunlight and Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies produce it in response to the sun. During the winter months, when we’re spending more time indoors and getting less sunlight, our serum vitamin D can drop. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to a number of health problems, including depression, brittle bones, anxiety, and fatigue.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps our bodies absorb calcium and phosphorus. Calcium and phosphorus are two minerals that are essential for maintaining strong bones. Vitamin D also plays a role in supporting cognitive health, lowers risk of depression, improves the immune system, reduces inflammation and is protective against certain types of cancers.

So how can you make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D this winter? Read on for some tips!

How Do You Get Vitamin D From the Sun?

Even in the colder months, aim for at least 15-minutes of sunshine every day. Take a walk around the block or sit by a sunny open window to get your daily dose. Our bodies absorb vitamin D best through natural sunlight, so exposing yourself to the sun is a MUST for increasing serum levels. Luckily, our bodies are smart and store vitamin D during times of high sun exposure (such as summertime, for example) as sort of a reservoir. Although this vitamin D backup helps us during the colder months, it is still important to get adequate sun exposure year round to protect our stores and ensure that our levels do not drop. 

Eat Foods Rich in Vitamin D

Getting sunlight year round is best, however, we can also absorb the sunshine vitamin from our food. The adult RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU or 15 mcg, with foods highest in this nutrient being fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, rainbow trout, mackerel, and foods such as egg yolks, beef liver, and mushrooms. Add these foods to your plate all winter long to prevent that D dip. 

Vitamin D Deficiency in WInter

If you believe that you are not getting enough vitamin D this winter, talk to your doctor about supplementation. Vitamin D supplements are available in both pill and liquid form and can help ensure you’re getting enough of this important nutrient this winter. One food sourced supplement that has been used for centuries is (and every child’s favorite…) cod liver oil. One tablespoon contains a whopping 1,350 IU (that’s more than double the recommended amount)!

A few things to keep in mind when supplementing: 

  • Vitamin D and calcium are super close, I’m talking besties for life here. And when one is missing the other is sad and then does poorly at its daytime job. To ensure that both are happy and working optimally, eat a meal rich in calcium when taking vitamin D.
    • Calcium containing foods include: all dairy products, canned sardines or salmon with bones, winter squash, almonds, beans, lentils, and leafy greens. 
  • Vitamin K is also a friend of both D and calcium. Basically vitamin K helps calcium and vitamin D go where they are needed. If K is absent, calcium and D can get lost and end up stuck in places where they do not belong, such as our arteries. When supplementing, shoot for a D3/K2 combo and you will be good to go. 
  • Fat needs fat. When it comes to supplementing fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), they are best absorbed when eaten with a meal or snack containing fat. Try sauteing your veggies in ghee, butter, or coconut oil or perhaps drizzle some olive oil on your salad and BAM you are vitamin D absorption city! 

Sunlight and vitamin D

Although it’s harder to get vitamin D in the winter months, it’s still possible to get enough of this important nutrient by spending some time outside, eating certain foods, or taking a supplement. So don’t let the winter blues get you down—get your vitamin D fix and enjoy the season!


Resources

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium/

https://draxe.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-foods/

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-d/art-20363792

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