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November 26, 2020 • read
Eight foods to boost your vitamin D levels this winter
In the summer, your body naturally produces vitamin D in reaction to sunlight. When wintertime comes, the days are shorter and we’re more inclined to huddle indoors beside a fireplace. The pandemic adds another hurdle, since many of us are minimizing time outside to stay safe. Less exposure to sunlight means our vitamin D levels go down.
Luckily, sunlight isn’t the only source of vitamin D — it’s also possible to get this nutrient from your diet. Here’s how vitamin D affects your body, and foods to help you get enough.
How vitamin D affects your body
Vitamin D plays an essential role in helping your body absorb calcium. Calcium keeps your bones and teeth strong, enables proper muscle movement, and contributes to heart and nerve function. Low levels of calcium can result in diseases like osteoporosis, as well as tooth decay and cataracts.
The recommended dose of vitamin D is different in provinces across Canada. Work with your doctor to find the level that’s right for you. Generally, Health Canada recommends that adults aged 19-50 should try to get 800 IU (20 mcg) of vitamin D from their diets each day.
Risk factors for low vitamin D
In addition to lack of sunlight, there are a few other factors that contribute to your ability to get enough vitamin D. People with darker skin absorb less of the sun’s UV rays, which can result in less production of vitamin D. If you’re 50 or older, your risk of deficiency increases too. Your body produces less vitamin D as you age.
Foods to eat to increase your levels of vitamin D
Of all the types of fatty fish, salmon has the highest vitamin D levels. Every 75 grams of salmon has 245 IU of vitamin D, which is a little over a quarter of the daily recommended amount. Salmon is also rich in other healthy nutrients that will come in handy over the winter months. It’s a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help alleviate seasonal depression.
There aren’t many vegetables that have significant amounts of vitamin D. Mushrooms are the exception. When exposed to UV light, mushrooms create vitamin D naturally, just like humans. Since lots of mass-produced mushrooms are grown in environments with low light, not every mushroom has had the chance to soak up sunny rays. That makes some mushrooms higher in vitamin D than others. Where possible, opt for wild foraged mushrooms since you can be sure of their sun exposure. Seven button mushrooms account for 4% of your daily recommended vitamin D.
Eggs are a nutrient-rich food with many health benefits, including significant levels of vitamin D. Egg yolks are what holds the most vitamins. After being cooked, egg yolks contain 32 IU of vitamin D each.
Eggs are more likely to be high in nutrients when they’re free range, or come from sources that allow animals exposure to sunlight. Opt for farm-raised eggs if you’re in particular need of a vitamin D boost this winter.
Tinned fish is a great meal option if you’re looking for a simple, quick way to add vitamin D to your diet. Canned salmon, tuna, and sardines all have high amounts of the sunshine vitamin, offering 202 IU, 36 IU, and 70 IU respectively.
Vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning it’s present in foods with high fat levels. When milk’s fat content is reduced from whole milk down to 2%, 1%, or skim, the vitamin D content decreases too. To counter this, cow’s milk and other dairy products like cheese are fortified with vitamin D in Canada. Depending on the fat percentage, one cup of milk can have up to 103 IU of vitamin D.
Fortified alternative milks
If dairy isn’t a regular part of your diet, you can still get a dosage of vitamin D from alternative milks. They’re often fortified with vitamins, just like cow’s milk. Fortified soy milk, nut milks, and rice milk are good sources of vitamin D. 16 oz of the average soy milk offers 29% of your daily vitamin D needs.
Turn to fortified tofu for plant-based vitamin D this winter. Like other fortified foods, some tofu brands add vitamins and minerals to give the tofu more nutritional benefits. Fortified tofu contains about 13% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin D per 100 grams.
While it doesn’t naturally contain vitamin D, many brands of orange juice are fortified with both vitamin D and calcium. Since vitamin D improves calcium absorption, this combination is especially beneficial. Orange juice provides about 15% of your daily vitamin D needs per serving.
To maintain healthy vitamin D levels, a combination of diet and lifestyle is key. In addition to eating foods rich in vitamin D, make sure to get some sunlight this winter. Try a mid-day walk the next time it’s sunny. If you have more time on your hands, consider a solo outdoor sport like skiing or snowshoeing. Safe, physically-distanced social outings and a balanced diet will go a long way towards optimal vitamin D levels this winter.
If you want expert help in putting together a healthy winter diet, speak to our registered dietitians online.