The summer is coming to a close, which means the colder weather is fast approaching. Chances are many of us will be spending less time outside. How does this translate in terms of nutrition? It likely means lower intakes and levels of vitamin D.
The “sunshine” vitamin is an important nutrient, needed for many things, including bone and tooth health through the absorption of minerals calcium and phosphorus. It’s also crucial for strengthening the immune system, which is important as cold and flu season will soon be upon us, too.
There is a lot of hot discussion concerning vitamin D nowadays, as its role in the prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and even certain types of cancer seems promising. Although the medical community isn’t too sure about the final link between vitamin D and these conditions, it is sure about the needed daily dose of vitamin D, and the fact that most of us just aren’t getting enough.
Last year, a study in a medical journal called Pediatrics found that nine per cent of kids and teens in the U.S. are vitamin D deficient. That number is likely much higher here, given we live further north.
It’s believed people living north of Boston and New York (i.e. the whole country of Canada) will need additional vitamin D from food or supplements for at least the months from September to May, in order to get enough.
Last year, the amount of vitamin D Canadians needed was updated, or perhaps a more accurate word to use would be increased. Babies up to one year now need 400IU daily, children and adults up to age 70 (including anyone who’s pregnant or breastfeeding) need 600IU and anyone over the age of 70 need 800 IU. Health Canada recommends that in addition to healthy eating, everyone over the age of 50 should take a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU daily.
One tablespoon of the liver oil of our once popular fish, cod, can supply the needed daily dose for vitamin D. However, this isn’t the best approach for everyone to take. In addition to vitamin D, cod liver oil can also be high in vitamin A. Yes, we need both of these nutrients, but certain people do need to be careful about taking in a lot of supplemental vitamin A, including pregnant women, those with high cholesterol or liver problems, people with diabetes and smokers.
Dietary sources of vitamin D are a little harder to come by, but they are out there. The only natural sources in our food supply are egg yolks — one large egg has 28 IU of vitamin D — and fatty fish like sardines, tuna, salmon, trout and herring. For a three-ounce portion, each has 77, 136, 447, 648, and 1,775 IU, respectively.
The way you prepare your fish might be important, too. Researchers at Boston University have found that frying in oil reduces the vitamin D content of wild-caught salmon by about half. The oil from frying can apparently suck out the vitamin D from the fish during the cooking process.
Other foods that are sources of vitamin D are ones that are fortified. These include milk (1 cup has 120 IU) and milk products (although cheese and yogurt don’t usually contain as much), fortified juices such as orange (1 cup, 137 IU), margarine (1 tbsp, 28 IU) and plants which are exposed to UV light, such as mushrooms (1/2 cup, 280 IU). One more food we might be able to soon add to that list could be cereals. Just last week, Health Canada announced it would let Kellogg’s add the sunshine vitamin to Rice Krispies, Mini-Wheats, Krave, Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Corn Pops. If you are a Special K fan, you may or may not have noticed that this cereal has been fortified with vitamin D since late last year.
If you’re not big on the sugary cereals, then try these kid-friendly meal ideas that are vitamin D rich: mushroom and cheese quesadillas; sandwiches such as tuna melts, egg salad and salmon; salmon burgers with cheese; and omelettes made with milk, mushrooms and cheese.
If your kids are keen on the above cereals, best choices would be the Mini-Wheats Original for less sugar and more fibre than the others, or the newer Special K with Protein, which is good for keeping bellies full at school .
Amanda Burton is a registered dietitian in St. John’s.
Contact her through the website www.recipeforhealth.ca.