I know, I know. We’re all sick of vitamin D. Headline after headline tells us that we don’t get enough, we need to make sure our levels are adequate, that our kids get enough….yada, yada, yaaaawn.
Americans tend to overdue things. As a nation, we eat too much, we watch too much television, we take too many meds and in general, rely too heavily on ‘supplements’ to catch up with our dietary shortcomings. And for the most part, the benefits are too few anyhow. Deep down, we know what to do and study after study confirms what is essentially common sense: eat good food, exercise and don’t smoke. And that works really well, providing everything the body needs in the right doses and combinations. What did you say? You knew there was a catch? Yes, you’re very smart.
Take your seats, class. We’re going to have a quick review of the benefits of Vitamin D:
- important for bone strength (helps calcium get into and stay in our bones)
- reduces the risk of seemingly unrelated disease processes like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cognitive impairment
- may reduce risk of childhood asthma
Wow. That sounds like some really important stuff. I rather like my bones unbroken, my heart beating properly, my pancreas unsweetened, my kids non-asthmatic and my cog to be unimpaired (unless purposely impaired with a nice single malt scotch).
How do we know if we need vitamin D and how can we get it? Sorry to pop your gym going, vegan diet eating non-smoking balloon but if you live north of say, Los Angeles or Atlanta, chances are you need it from April to September and really need it from October to March. Those living in sunnier climates can get enough from sun exposure (about 15-30 minutes a day depending on the pigmentation level of skin). The rest of us need to get it from our diet or through supplements. As a general rule, we need 1000-2000 IUs per day. Some experts recommend less and to just prevent vitamin D deficiency you can take less. Some recommend taking larger doses but it can build up in the body so for most people, staying in the 1000-2000 IUs per day range will probably give you all the benefits.
Okay, let’s go with the dietary route then. Usually that’s a better idea than taking supplements, right? What do you have to eat? According to my reliable information sources the list of Vitamin D rich foods looks like this: egg yolks, cod liver oil, salmon and other oily fish. Uh oh.
Remember when eggs were healthy, and then they weren’t and now they are sometimes in small amounts for some people? For a moment let’s forget about the 212 mg of cholesterol in a large egg and forget about the 5 g of total fat, and completely ignore the link between animal protein and cancer and let’s just look at vitamin D, okay? One large egg provides (the yolk is where the vitamin D is so egg whites don’t count)…..18-20 IUs. How can that possibly be a good source of vitamin D? You would have to eat more than 50 eggs (everyday!) to even come close to 1000 IUs! Didn’t we learn anything from Cool Hand Luke? Ain’t nobody ever eat 50 eggs! Yet, there they are — on the “top ten foods for vitamin D” lists. As Miles Monroe might have told us, that’s a big omelette.
Salmon, then, we can eat some salmon. A three and a half ounce serving of (farmed) salmon has about 245-320 IUs of vitamin D. Should you decide to splurge and buy wild salmon the same size serving can give you up to 988 IUs. Although, I don’t think there is any responsible nutritional source that suggests eating any kind of fish everyday or even every other day. The FDA states that nearly all seafood and shellfish have traces of mercury and/or methylmercury. Many have more than a trace and can contain unsafe levels of contaminants and are often high in mercury and other environmental toxins that have no place in a healthy diet. Fish also contain no fiber and are high in animal protein, and often, in saturated fat and cholesterol. Hmmm….sounds like a fishy plan to me.
Other sources of vitamin D: fortified foods. In other words, foods that have nutrients added back in when they are done processing it. One cup of fortified milk or orange juice has about 100 IUs. Again, no one should be drinking 10 cups of either of these a day.
No matter how you do this math, you cannot eat your way out of a vitamin D deficiency. Unless you live in the right climate year round and spend part of everyday walking in the sun with no sunscreen, make a vitamin D supplement part of your daily habit — at least during the darker parts of the year.
Brett L. Kinsler and Michalene Elliott are Rochester Chiropractors who take vitamin D supplements but will happily be guest speakers in tropical locations so they don’t have to. Their website is www.rochesterchiro.com