How dark and dreary has it been lately? You might have been lucky enough to have seen snippets of blue sky recently but for many of us Northern hemisphere hermits, the winter months bring dull days, rain, more rain and often very little quality sunshine.
In fact our exposure to sunshine is one of the biggest factors that determines the levels of Vitamin D in our body. Known as the sunshine vitamin, we rely on UVB rays from the sun to make Vitamin D in our skin.
In the spring and summer months we need only spend 15 minutes in the sun (between 11 and 3) 2-3 times a week to make enough vitamin D. From October to March however it becomes practically impossible; not only do our days become shorter but the intensity of the sunshine falls. People with dark skin will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D as someone with lighter skin because melanin (the skin pigment) absorbs UV.
And unlike other vitamins, food sources of vitamin D are pretty limited. Our diet is often more processed than it should be, so it’s more likley that we don’t eat enough of the foods we need to. We also spend more time than ever indoors so over the last decade, out vitamin D levels have been slowly dropping.
Vitamin D is essential for bone health and growth but evidence is growing that also supports other possible roles in helping prevent certain cancers, heart disease, type-2 diabetes and depression and dementia.
So here are my top 3 tips on boosting your Vitamin D levels in the winter months ahead:
1. Eat more oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines
Aim for twice a week at least. Red meat, liver cheese and egg yolks are also good sources but that’s about it! Some foods have vitamin D added to them (they are fortified – breakfast cereals, spreads, non-dairy milk alternatives and some yoghurts) but the amounts can be very small and vary.
2. Go for Vit D enriched mushrooms!
Tesco and M&S have taken to exposing their mushrooms to UV light when they are grown to increase their vit D content. Just 4 chestnut or 2 portobello mushrooms would provide your recommended daily a
3. Take a vitamin D supplement.
‘Vulnerable’ groups have long been recommended to take a D supplement but we now know that anyone over the age of 5 should consider taking a 10 microgram (mcg) supplement, particularly in the winter months. Look for Vitamin D3 as this is the most active in the body.
You may qualify for Healthy Start vitamin supplements that can be given to pregnant and breast feeding mums and children under 4 for free. Otherwise, look for offers in pharmacies like Boots or online on Amazon
Vulnerable groups include:
- Breastfed babies from birth to 12 months old should have a daily supplement containing 8.5-10 mcg of vitamin D. Infant formula milk is already fortified so babies having more than 500ml (~1 pint) of formula a day should not be given a supplement. Vitamin drops are available for babies and toddlers so it’s easy to give.
- Children aged 1 to 4 years old should be given a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D. My son is 4 and I still use drops that I squirt into his morning cereal but you can also get fruity chewable tablets too.
- The over 65’s and the following groups would benefit from taking 10mcg of vitamin D all year round.
- Anyone who spends much of their time indoors (e.g. those who are frail, housebound or in a care home)
- Anyone who usually wears clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors
- Anyone with African, African-Caribbean or South Asian family origin
If you are not sure or worried you are not getting enough vitamin D, speak to a registered nutritionist, dietitian or your doctor.