You’ve probably heard a lot about vitamin D (aka, the sunshine vitamin) lately. Actually, because we can make some in our bodies with exposure to sunlight, it’s not even really a vitamin, but rather a hormone. Getting enough vitamin D is important for many body functions, including proper calcium and phosphorous absorption to help keep bones and teeth healthy.
Currently, the recommendation is to get 600 IU per day if you’re age 70 or younger; 800 IU daily if you’re older. Skimping on this vitamin may increase the risk for certain diseases, like diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Most single vitamin D supplements contain 1,000 IU which is probably fine if you’re not also taking a multi or getting it from other sources, but best check with your doctor before taking more than the recommended amount of vitamin D.)
Below, I’ve outlined the four ways we get vitamin D. Keep reading to learn how you can get more of this key vitamin.
1. Get some sun. You need at least 10 to 15 minutes of direct sun, without sunscreen (which prevents any vitamin D from being made), two to three times a week to make enough vitamin D. For people living in northern latitudes, the wintertime provides a challenge because the sun is not strong enough for the skin to make enough vitamin D. Plus, dermatologists warn against any exposure to the sun without sunscreen. The bottom line: It’s not realistic for most people to get enough vitamin D this way.
2. Go fish. Fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna are not only loaded with omega-3 fats, but they’re also some of the few richest natural food sources of vitamin D. Salmon ranks highest, with about 90 percent of your daily vitamin D needs (360 IUs) per 3.5-ounce serving. Mackerel, sardines, and tuna are also great sources with just slightly lower amount per serving.
3. Eat fortified foods. A cup of milk (fat-free or one percent is best if you’re watching fat and calories) provides 90 IU of vitamin D. Some brands of yogurt, orange juice, and cereals have also been fortified with vitamin D; check labels to find the D content of these foods.
4. Take a supplement: If you can’t get enough vitamin D from your diet and you don’t get out in the sun much, a supplement can help. Most multivitamins and calcium supplements offer offer at least 400 IU (many of the “senior” tablets contain more); if you don’t take a multi, take a separate D supplement—they’re usually 1,000 IU, which is safe for most people. If you are an older person (as you age, you don’t absorb vitamin D as well and you’re more at risk for osteoporosis) or dark-skinned (the darker your skin, the less vitamin D you make), doublecheck that you’re getting enough from your diet and/or supplement.