In Wisconsin, we know that sunlight is a precious resource in the winter. With our long work weeks, busy school schedules, extracurriculars, and other hobbies, it can be hard to soak up enough sun during the colder, darker months of the year. Unfortunately for us northerners, we get most of our intake of Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, which can be challenging during the winter. In fact, it’s so hard for us to get enough sunlight in the winter months that Vitamin D deficiency is endemic in Wisconsin.

Fortunately, we’ve officially passed into spring (although you might not know from looking outside) and should see more sun soon. Until we can spend more time soaking up those rays, there are other ways to keep our Vitamin D levels up!

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is more than a vitamin; it actually acts as a hormone! Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption and the maintenance of adequate serum calcium and phosphate levels, which assists in the growth of healthy bones and teeth. Without sufficient levels of Vitamin D, our bones may become weak or brittle over time.

Vitamin D also plays a vital role in our immune health, reducing inflammation and modulating cell growth & glucose metabolism. Research suggests a link between long-term Vitamin D deficiency and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis and lupus. Low Vitamin D levels are also linked to depression, which may be another reason we feel extra low during the dark winter months.

Can I get enough Vitamin D from the sun?

Doing a little sunbathing is one of the best ways to get more Vitamin D, but if you live in a place that lacks adequate sunshine, you likely won’t be able to get the 15-30 minutes of daily midday sun on at least a third of exposed skin that you need to produce an optimal level of Vitamin D. (Unless you plan on lounging around in a snowbank in your swimsuit.) Plus, the darker your skin is, the longer the time necessary for maximum absorption from the sun. And let’s not forget that too much sun exposure comes with big risks too—sunburn and skin cancer are serious concerns when spending a lot of time in the sun. All of these factors make it difficult to get the necessary amount of Vitamin D your body needs from the sun alone.

How can I get more Vitamin D?

Because it is a “fat-soluble” or fat-loving vitamin, Vitamin D is best absorbed when consumed with fat. Luckily some foods that have Vitamin D already contain a source of fat, which means they’re the perfect all-in-one food. Examples are salmon, tuna, chicken, eggs, sardines, liver, and trout. Other foods with high levels of Vitamin D include mushrooms, fortified dairy products, and fortified cereal. Getting your Vitamin D through food is an easy way to boost levels, but unless you plan on eating a steady diet of mushrooms and tuna salad sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you still likely won’t get enough Vitamin D.

Vitamin D supplements are another good way to ensure your body produces enough of this essential nutrient. A good Vitamin D supplement taken daily can keep your Vitamin D levels healthy all year long.

How to choose a Vitamin D supplement

Before choosing a Vitamin D supplement, research which dosage to take or consult with your doctor. Vitamin D is measured in micrograms (mcg) or international units (IU), and the recommended dosage for people ages 1 to 70 years old is 600 IU (15 mcg).

Dosage recommendations do vary by age. Check out the chart below for a full list of recommended dosages:

Infants 0-12 months 400 IU (10 mcg)
People up to 70 years 600 IU (15 mcg)
People over 70 years 800 IU (20 mcg)

If you’re browsing the supplements section at the pharmacy, you may notice Vitamin D bottles with dosages far exceeding the ones listed above. That’s because optimal Vitamin D intake varies widely based on age, skin color, season, and latitude. So an adequate amount of Vitamin D for someone in Wisconsin winter would be higher than someone near the equator. The upper limit for recommended Vitamin D intake is 4,000 IU per day, and you should consult with a medical professional if you think you need to go beyond that dose.

Though rare, Vitamin D consumption in excess can lead to high blood calcium levels, which causes bones to calcify and hardens the blood vessels, kidneys, lungs, and heart tissues. This serious reaction to an overdose of Vitamin D is unlikely to occur with dosages under 10,000 IU a day, but it’s still important to speak to a medical professional before going higher than the average recommended dosage.

Stop by the FuelBar for an extra dose of Vitamin D

If you’re feeling a little worn down by all the snow clouds still in the sky, stop by the FuelBar at Western and try our current seasonal smoothie —the Vitamin D-licious. Made with fortified orange juice, almond milk, and multivitamin powder, this fruity drink provides 65% of your daily recommended Vitamin D!

Stop by the FuelBar this week and get a dollar off the Vitamin D-licious smoothie when you mentioned this blog.

Visit the website to view our full menu of tasty smoothies, snacks, and more.

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