To D or not to D...?

I’m not a supplement girl.  No protein shakes, no fish oil pills, not even vitamins.  I strongly believe that people should get their nutrients from food.  REAL FOOD. 

 But...I am willing to compromise (a teensy bit) on one. Vitamin D.  And only in very special instances.

Vitamin D is SO HOT right now and I am particularly partial to this vitamin du jour. In the lab, I research how Vitamin D interacts with muscle and exercise.  In addition to benefits seen with training, there is a plethora of  research investigating other incredibly positive effects of Vitamin D on other tissues - intestine (may help IB), immune cells (protects against the flu), pancreas (to aid prevention of Type I Diabetes AND treatment of Type II Diabetes), and most well known in bone (prevents osteoporosis by increasing Calcium absorption).

 You need Vitamin D.  It is essential.  But unlike other other essential nutrients (which you have to eat) your body can actually make Vitamin D.  A certain form of cholesterol (yes, cholesterol…not all of it is bad) goes to your skin, where it can be zapped by UVB rays from the sun, converting it to Vitamin D.

Sun Love

Unfortunately, many things can block this conversion.  Sunscreen has been the scapegoat lately.  But, for anyone that lives at Northern latitudes (typically North of about Virginia), you are 100% unable to make any Vitamin D between the months of November and March (even in our current tropical January…).  Because of the angle of the earth to the sun, the wavelength of light that hits your skin to make the cholesterol conversion is totally blocked.  Literally, you could dance naked on the streets of Boston in December and not make a drop of Vitamin D!  Bummer.

The only way to make up this winter deficit is to either eat food with more Vitamin D or take a supplement.  My MAJOR recommendation is to eat foods high in (or fortified with) Vitamin D.

REAL FOOD that is high in Vitamin D includes:

  • Fatty Fish (Swordfish, Salmon, Tuna - canned & fresh) - 100% Daily Value (see recipe below)
  • Milk and Yogurt (fortified) - 20-40% Daily Value (see recipe below)
  • Orange Juice that is fortified - 40% Daily Value
  • Soy Milk (fortified) - 20-30% Daily Value

Roasted Plums with Greek Yogurt Honey & Almond Recipe

So, you can see it is actually pretty easy to get your daily Vitamin D within your diet!  In fact, all of these REAL FOOD items provide other fantastic health benefits as well through naturally occurring micronutrients - omega-3 fatty acids, Calcium, Vitamin C, Magnesium and Zinc. However, if you have milk allergies or don’t eat fish, you MAY need a supplement (I’m willing to give a little here…a little…).

But remember, Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin.  This means two things:

  1. You need to consume Vitamin D with a little fat (so it actually gets absorbed), which is why fatty fish, milk and yogurt are great choices.
  2. Because Vitamin D is fat soluble, you will actually store any that your body is not using right away.  So, as long as you are eating foods REGULARLY that are high in Vitamin D, you should be getting enough within your diet...no pills necessary!

I really want to emphasize: REAL FOOD is where you want to get your nutrition!  There is so much more in your cup of yogurt than you could EVER get from a regimen of capsules.  In my opinion, supplements are essentially unregulated pharmaceuticals, and should only be considered when you are SURE you cannot get enough of a specific nutrient from your diet.  A bowl of cereal in the morning, a cup of yogurt for a snack, and salmon for dinner will ensure you are good-to-go with your Vitamin D (and many other nutrients besides)!

Smoked Salmon Bruschetta Recipe