Vitamin D is commonly known as the “sunshine vitamin”. It has this nickname because when our skin is exposed to sunlight, our body is able to synthesize Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for healthy bones and muscle, a good immune system, glucose metabolism, and cell growth. But in many populations around the world, vitamin D deficiency is common.
How do I know if I have vitamin D deficiency?
There are various symptoms associated with vitamin D deficiency, including bone pain, frequent illnesses, and muscle weakness. However, many people who only have a mild deficiency, do not show any noticeable symptoms, and it is always better to diagnose and treat a health problem BEFORE it gets worse.
Checking your vitamin D levels is quick and simple. It just requires a simple finger prick blood sample with our Vitamin D Test. This test measures your blood concentration of 25-OH vitamin D, which is the main indicator of vitamin D status. This test can tell you if your levels are in the healthy optimal range, or if you have mild to moderate deficiency, or if you have a severe deficiency. It can also detect vitamin D levels that are too high (vitamin D toxicity), which can occur in people who take an excessive amount of vitamin D supplements.
Is sunshine the only way to obtain vitamin D?
No, although vitamin D is the “sunshine vitamin”, it is also naturally present in some food sources, is added to several fortified foods, and is available as a supplement too.
What foods should I eat to increase my vitamin D levels?
There are only a few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. The best sources are fish liver oils and fatty fish, such as trout and salmon. For example, just one tablespoon of cod liver oil provides 170% of the recommended daily intake for adults, while 3 ounces of salmon provides 71% (1).
Some mushrooms are available that have been treated with UV light to increase their vitamin D levels with ½ cup providing 46% of the recommended daily intake, but it is important to realize that untreated mushrooms contain significantly less vitamin D. Other foods that naturally contain small amounts of vitamin D include eggs, beef, chicken, and cheese, but the levels of vitamin D from these sources can vary depending on the animals’ diet (1).
There are also several foods available that have had vitamin D added to them, and these fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in American diets. All dairy milk in Canada must be fortified with vitamin D, and most dairy milk in the U.S. is also fortified. Plant milk options (e.g., soy milk) are usually fortified too. Many ready-to-eat breakfast cereals have added vitamin D, and all infant formula in the U.S. and Canada must contain vitamin D. Other foods that are also commonly fortified include some brands of orange juice, yogurt, and margarine (1).
Should I increase my sun exposure to get more vitamin D?
Although most people around the world get at least some of their vitamin D from sun exposure, it is difficult to determine how much sun is needed to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. Some vitamin D researchers suggest 5-30 minutes of sun exposure at least twice a week on the face, arms, hands, and legs without sunscreen. However, it is very important to limit exposure to UV radiation, as it is the leading cause of skin cancer (1).
Are there other ways to increase my vitamin D levels?
Many different dietary supplements are available that include vitamin D, and this is the recommended way to increase vitamin D levels if dietary changes are inadequate. However, it is important not to overdose on vitamin D supplements, as vitamin D toxicity can occur, causing nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, kidney stones, and severe pain (1).
1. Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH, Office of Dietary Supplements. Updated August 2021.