Summertime is the perfect time to head outside and soak up one of the body’s most important nutrients – vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is crucial for maintaining healthy bones and protecting against the loss of bone mass.
Vitamin D is also important for the role it plays in improving muscle strength, boosting the immune system and reducing inflammation.
What happens to the body if you don’t get enough vitamin D?
A vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteomalacia, a condition that causes bone pain and muscle weakness. Low vitamin D levels have also been linked to an increased risk of dementia, depression, psoriatic arthritis and heart disease.
Most adults need at least 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D per day. And you can get it in three ways: through sun exposure, your diet and nutritional supplements.
Vitamin D and sun exposure
“The body makes vitamin D when skin is exposed to the sun,” said Lena Beal, M.S., RD, LD, a therapeutic dietitian at Piedmont’s Fuqua Heart Center. “Most people meet at least some of their vitamin D needs this way.”
But the amount of vitamin D you get from the sun depends on the following factors:
- Time of day: The atmosphere blocks UVB rays in the early morning and late evening, preventing the skin from producing vitamin D. The best time to stock up on this hormone is in the middle of the day.
- Where you live: Cities located further from the equator receive fewer UVB rays in the winter. But there is plenty of vitamin D to go around in the summer.
- Skin color: Paler skin produces vitamin D more easily. So it may only take 15 minutes for those with pale skin to get their daily value of vitamin D, while those with darker skin may need to stay in the sun up to six times longer (about two hours).
It’s important to remember that too much sun exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer. Limit time outside, and always wear sunscreen.
Food sources of vitamin D
Few foods naturally contain vitamin D, but the following fortified foods are a good source:
- Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Breakfast cereals
- Certain brands of orange juice, yogurt and margarine
Vitamin D supplements are also recommended if you are not getting enough of the nutrient in your diet.
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