Winter in Minnesota is full of snow, ice, cold temperatures, slow traffic, short days, long nights; you get the picture. On the flip side, one thing Minnesota winters often lack is sunshine. Besides energy, warmth, and light for visibility, sunshine provides us with vitamin D, one of the most important nutrients AND hormones for bodily function. The majority of us are deficient in Vitamin D, and the effects, though subtle, can be devastating. In this article, we will explore what Vitamin D is, why it is so important, and how to make sure you are getting adequate amounts year-round.
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is critical for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the body, two minerals that are vital for a plethora of bodily functions. Essentially, vitamin D is needed to build up our bones and keep them strong, clear waste from cells and kidneys, facilitate proper heart function, enhance nerve conduction, and maintain the strength of our skeletal muscles. Without vitamin D, we simply would not function! Acute symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include weakness, fatigue, and muscle soreness. If left unaddressed, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to complications such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, rickets (in children), cognitive impairment (i.e. Alzheimer’s and dementia in older folks), and severe asthma. There is also believed to be a link between mental health and adequate levels of vitamin D in the bloodstream, which is giving way to new ways to help treat the symptoms of mental illness. Now that we understand what vitamin D is and why it is so important, let’s explore the best ways to get vitamin D!
Vitamin D is most accessible and easily metabolized directly from the sun, and deriving it in this way is much more efficient for our bodies than any other source. To get this powerful nutrient from the sun, all you need to do is going outside in unfiltered sunlight for 10 minutes a day. 10 MINUTES! The more surface area of skin exposed, the more vitamin D you will absorb, plain and simple. Though sunlight is most ideal, there are foods rich in vitamin D, so adding those to your diet will help keep levels higher, especially in the dark, cold, winter months.
If you consume vitamin D through food or take a supplement, it is important to be aware that vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient. This means we need to consume some healthy fats with the vitamin D in order for it to be accepted by our bodies. Otherwise, those supplements you take will just make for some really expensive urine and feces. Below is a list of some of the best foods to consume for vitamin D:
Fatty Fish: Salmon, Tuna, Herring, Sardines, and Mackerel. Cod Liver Oil is commonly taken as a vitamin D supplement
Shellfish and Seafood: Oysters and Shrimp are both high in vitamin D
Eggs: Specifically, the yolks, that is where all the nutrients are! Egg yolks also have fats, so this is an easy consideration
Beef Liver: Liver seems off-putting to many, but it can be delicious. If you’ve never tried Beef Liver pate, I highly suggest it!
Mushrooms: This is the only plant-based source of vitamin D (but then again, mushrooms aren’t technically plants? Anyway…). One thing to be aware of; Mushrooms contain vitamin D2 which, though it does increase vitamin D levels in the blood, is not as efficient as vitamin D3 (found in animal products) for the body to use.
Foods Fortified with Vitamin D: Some foods commonly fortified with vitamin D include; Cow milk, soy milk, cereal, orange juice, and oatmeal.
Part of the reason I wrote this blog is because I too have a vitamin D deficiency. In January, I went to see my physician for a physical and blood work. Everything came back as normal, except for my vitamin D levels. At the same time, I was experiencing lack of energy, and lower levels of optimism than usual. Since then, I have been very mindful of consuming foods higher in vitamin D, and I have noticed improvements! I share this to show that even if you are a very healthy individual, vitamin D deficiency can affect anyone, so being proactive and mindful about getting vitamin D daily can help keep you feeling 100%, all of the time :)