It’s usually vitamin C that hogs the micronutrient limelight, with it’s promise of better protection against colds. Followed closely by vitamin E and it’s wrinkle-free, moisturised skin promises.
Vitamin D isn’t talked about as much, but it’s also essential for good health.
Our body makes vitamin D when sunlight hits our skin, and it’s also present in some foods. The problem is that and our long, dark UK winters mean absorbing sunshine is almost impossible. Plus, only a few foods contain vitamin D.
If you need a little more vitamin D in your life, what can you do and what can you eat? What are the best sources of vitamin D? Let’s find out.
Why Is Vitamin D Important?
Vitamin D regulates calcium and phosphate absorption. It keeps our bones and teeth strong and prevents muscle weakness and fatigue. Researchers also think it may play a part in preventing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For many of us, SAD rears its ugly head each year during the darker months.
It’s believed that SAD can occur as a result of a vitamin D deficiency. This can prevent a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly. The hypothalamus regulates our natural sleep, appetite, and mood patterns. When it’s disrupted it produces less of the happy hormone serotonin.
Having reduced levels of serotonin makes us feel depressed, anxious and unhappy. On top of this, a lack of vitamin D also creates more melatonin which promotes lethargy and sleep.
Where Does Vitamin D Come From?
We get most of our vitamin D from sunlight. In the winter, when the skies are gloomy and we’re outside less, it’s difficult for the body to make enough. Even in the summer, we might not get enough if we cover up with hats, long sleeves and sunscreen. (All those things we’re supposed to do, to avoid the sun’s harmful rays!)
It’s hard to get vitamin D from food sources too as it’s only present in a small number of foods. These foods include liver, cheese, oily fish and egg yolk. The trend toward veganism and flexitarian diets could make getting enough vitamin D even more of a challenge. Especially in winter.
As many as 20% of Brits are thought to have a profound vitamin D deficiency. It’s so serious, that Public Health England recommends that everyone takes a daily 10mcg supplement in autumn and winter. This is especially important if you don’t eat many, or any, foods containing vitamin D.
What Are the Signs of a Vitamin D Deficiency?
If you’re not getting enough vitamin D you might feel weak, tired and depressed. You may also experience bone pain, digestive problems, hair loss, skin discoloration and weight gain.
You could also develop SAD. This common condition results in feelings of sadness, anxiety, depression, irritability and problems concentrating.
Sources of Vitamin D
You can boost your levels by heading outside to let the sun shine on your face and forearms, even in winter. We do sometimes have sunny days in winter so make the most of them!
Experts say 20-30 minutes of sun exposure three times a week is enough – but that’s no mean feat in freezing February.
You could also eat more of these foods:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Cheese and milk
- Red meat including liver
- Cereal fortified with vitamin D
- Bread fortified with vitamin D
- Egg yolks
Bump up Your Vitamin D and Feel Better
Work, life commitments and mobility problems can mean that getting outside enough is tricky. Also, you may choose not to eat foods that contain vitamin D. If so, then consider taking a vitamin D supplement.
Most adult and children’s multivitamins contain vitamin D. Or you can buy it as a single vitamin supplement. Most supermarkets and pharmacies sell inexpensive vitamins. Families on low incomes can get vitamin supplements free of charge on the NHS Healthy Start scheme.
If you don’t feel great, and tend not to get outside much, it’s certainly worth considering whether your vitamin D levels are lacking.
I can say from personal experience that I feel better taking a supplement from November to March. Even though I head outside everyday for several hours no matter what the weather is doing.
Unless you have plans to emigrate to warmer climes, it could help you too.