protect your heart and more during the dark days of winter

protect your heart and more during the dark days of winter

Vitamin D is an important factor for maintaining strong, healthy bones and immune system and ensuring proper function of the heart, brain, muscles and lungs. Despite its name, vitamin D is not a regular vitamin. It’s actually a steroid hormone that is obtained primarily through sun exposure.

The body makes its own vitamin D from sunlight. We are capable of producing 10,000 to 25,000 units of vitamin D in just a little under the time it takes for skin to turn pink. Most vitamin D is made from exposing a large area of skin, such as the back, to the sun. It takes about 15 minutes of exposure for a very fair skinned person to produce vitamin D, but could take a couple of hours or more for a dark skinned person. Be sure not to be in the sun longer than 15 minutes without sunscreen or covering up to prevent increased risk of skin damage or cancer. Unfortunately, the lack of sunlight in winter causes our vitamin D levels to drop significantly. From the beginning of October through March, the angle of the sun prevents much of North America from getting ultraviolet B (UVB) that our bodies use to make vitamin D.

To get vitamin D in the sun-starved winter months, eat foods rich or fortified with the vitamin and supplements. Follow these suggestions to ensure you get the recommended daily amounts of vitamin D during the winter months.

Foods Rich in Vitamin D

Good food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, eggs and vitamin D fortified foods such as milk. Just a small 4-ounce serving of salmon offers us 265% of our daily-recommended allowance of this critically important vitamin. Eating 2.5 servings of salmon each week would get us all of the vitamin D we need. For vegetarians or those who dislike fish, drink three cups of a vitamin D fortified milk each day. Or, insert more fungi into your diet including mushrooms that are grown in ultraviolet light and produce vitamin D.

Vitamin D Supplements

With long work and school days, it can be difficult to get daily full body sun exposure. Taking a supplement is an effective way to get the vitamin D your body needs without worrying about overexposing skin to the sun. According to the Food and Nutrition Board, recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 600 units for those 1-70 years of age and pregnant or breastfeeding women and 800 units for those over 71. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning your body has a hard time getting rid of it if you take too much. The Vitamin D Council recommends taking no more than 10,000 units/day for adults. Vitamin D toxicity usually happens if 40,000 IU are taken a day for a couple of months or longer and can be harmful.