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Nutrition Notes

What you need to know about vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”

Karen Lentner head shotNutritionist Karen LentnerHave you seen more information in the news about vitamin D in the past few years? Does your doctor check your vitamin D levels with your annual blood test? The reason vitamin D has been in the spotlight is because, in addition to its role in maintaining strong bones and preventing osteoporosis, many studies have found it is also beneficial for our immune system and helping our bodies resist diseases, including cancer, bacteria and viruses.

How much vitamin D do I need?

The most recent recommendations are 600 IU (International Units) for individuals age one to 70, and 800 IU if 71 years and older. In order to have adequate levels in our blood, we need to get vitamin D from all sources, including food, sunshine, and supplements. Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because humans can make vitamin D in their skin from exposure to the sun. The amount of exposure however, varies from person to person based on skin type or color, length of exposure, season of the year, sunscreen use, and time of day. In addition, your skin changes as you age, and it may be more difficult for your body to make vitamin D. Since it is difficult to meet your needs entirely with sunshine, especially in winter, it is best to focus on food and consider a supplement as well.

Who is at risk for vitamin D deficiency?

Individuals with limited sun exposure or those who are overweight or obese, with dark skin, or age 50 or above are at risk for vitamin D deficiency.

What foods contain vitamin D?

  • hard boiled eggs contain 44 IU
  • fortified milk/yogurt: 100 to 125 IU
  • three ounces salmon, tuna, mackerel: 300 to 450 IU
  • fortified cereal: 40+ IU

This information appears on food labels. If your diet does not contain these foods and you have limited exposure to sunlight, consider a multivitamin that contains vitamin D. Ask your physician what your vitamin D levels are and if a supplement is right for you.

What kind of vitamin D supplement?

In order to meet your requirement in a multivitamin, select one that contains 600 to 1000 IU. In addition, there are other acceptable vitamin D supplements in the form of D2 and D3.

How much vitamin D is too much?

The most recent recommendation is to stay below 4000 IU per day, both from food and supplements to avoid toxicity. Exposure to the sun will not cause vitamin D toxicity.

Should I pay attention to my other medications?

YES. Some medications may affect the absorption of vitamin D. These include steroids and cholesterol-lowering medications. It is best to ask your physician or pharmacist about your medications and if there needs to be an adjustment to your supplementation.

A well-balanced diet is critical for good health. Consider Meals on Wheels or meal programs at your local senior center for nutritious options. To learn more, contact our Nutrition Program.