Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” because of the body’s need for sun exposure to produce it. It’s an essential nutrient that allows our bodies to absorb calcium and maintain strong bones and teeth, as well as build our immune system, muscles and nervous system.
It’s estimated more than 40% of Americans have some degree of vitamin D deficiency, with Blacks and Hispanics and older adults of any ethnicity at the highest risk. Deficiencies can lead to osteoporosis, rickets and other bone diseases.
In winter, deficiencies become even more common as the days grow shorter and people spend more time indoors to get away from the cold.
Here are some ways you can increase your vitamin D levels this time of year.
- Get outdoors as much as you’re able. Truly subfreezing temperatures can be dangerous, but try to acclimate yourself and your family to “almost-freezing” weather, so you can at least get some sun exposure. Get outdoors for 15 to 30 minutes three times a week with at least some skin exposed to the sun to allow your body’s vitamin D receptors to do their job. Use sunscreen or cover yourself up if you’re going to be in the sun any longer than that.
- Eat more vitamin D-rich foods. This is a good rule to follow any time of year, but you may want to think more consciously about this now. If you like oily fishes like salmon, tuna and mackerel you’re in luck; try to eat two servings a week, preferably of “wild” varieties to reduce exposure to pollutants. Mushrooms are the sole non-animal food that has naturally occurring vitamin D, but a few other foods are regularly fortified with it including dairy and plant milks, orange juice and cereal.
- If you are concerned about your levels of vitamin D, ask your health care provider whether you should have a blood test done to check this. If supplements are recommended follow your provider’s instructions, as overdosing on vitamin D can cause you to absorb toxic levels of calcium.