We all love when we have enough time to catch the precious sun rays outside and enjoy the hot summer days, and such weather always makes us happy and in a great mood. When we are exposed to sunlight, our body produces vitamin D, which is the main reason for our pleasant mood.
This vitamin strengthens the immune system, bones, and teeth. It helps the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the body and makes us resistant to numerous diseases.
Yet, its deficiency often leads to symptoms like:
- Bone pain
- Back pain
- Poor immune system
- Hair loss
- Muscle pain
- Slow healing of wounds
Inadequate levels of vitamin D and a lack of sun exposure can lead to low blood levels of “calcidiol” and a vitamin D deficiency, which will, in turn, cause impaired bone mineralization and bone damage.
These issues contribute to the development of bone-softening diseases, like rickets for children and osteomalacia for adults. Rickets causes impeded the growth of the bones, and when the child starts walking, the bones bend and bow under the weight.
On the other hand, osteomalacia is manifested by muscle weakness, softening of the bones, bowing of the legs, and bone fragility in adults.
Conversely, the excessive intake of vitamin D supplements can cause vitamin D toxicity, and the liver will start producing too much 25 OH D levels, which will elevate blood calcium levels, known as hypercalcemia.
If not treated on time, this condition can lead to excess deposits of calcium in soft tissues, and in other organs, including the kidneys and the heart. Therefore it is very important to stick to the recommended daily amounts of this vitamin.
The needed dose of this vitamin depends on many factors, like age, race, latitude, season, sun exposure, clothing and more. According to the US Institute of Medicine, an average daily intake of 400–800 IU, or 10–20 micrograms, is adequate for 97.5% of individuals.
Yet, some researchers have found that this daily intake should be higher if one is not exposed to the sun, and state that blood levels above 20 ng/ml or 30 ng/ml are considered as “sufficient.”
A study of healthy adults found that a daily intake of 1120–1680 IU was needed to maintain sufficient blood levels. Participants who were vitamin D deficient needed 5000 IU to reach blood levels above 30 ng/ml. On the other hand, studies in postmenopausal women with vitamin D levels lower than 20 ng/ml found that ingesting 800–2000 IU raised blood levels above 20 ng/ml.
Additionally, obese and overweight people might also need higher amounts of this vitamin. If we consider all factors, a daily vitamin D intake of 1000–4000 IU, or 25–100 micrograms, should be enough to ensure optimal blood levels.
The most efficient way to get vitamin D is via sun exposure. Our skin produces vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) when we expose it to the sun, and this happens quickly, about half the time it takes before your skin begins to burn, from 15 minutes, if you have fair skin, and up to 2h, if you have darker skin. Note that the production is better when you expose larger areas of the skin directly to the sunlight, like the back.
The amount of vitamin D the body produces depends on:
-- The time of the day: the skin produces more vitamin D during the middle of the day when the sun is giving off the most ultraviolet B
-- Skin color: People with fair skin produce it quicker
-- Place of living: People who live closer to the equator produce this vitamin more easily
Note that it is always better to correct your vitamin deficiencies with natural food sources, instead of supplements. In this case, apart from the reasonable amount of time exposed to sunlight you should also consider increasing the consumption of the following foods:
-- Vitamin D-Rich Vegetables- these include potatoes, spinach, and corn. Mashed potatoes with milk and butter provide 21 IU of vitamin D per measure, and a spinach soufflé will provide 42 IU of this vitamin. Moreover, prepare corn pudding at home, and you will get 55 IU of vitamin D per cup.
-- Eggs- Egg yolks are rich in vitamin D, so it is essential that you eat the whole egg instead of just the egg white
-- Mushrooms- Mushrooms are full of vitamin D, especially the following:
- White Mushrooms- if they have been exposed to sunlight while growing, they are high in vitamin D, and every ounce of white mushrooms will provide 8 IU of vitamin D.
- Shiitake Mushrooms- They provide 3% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D, and for every four shiitake mushrooms served, you get 20 IU of vitamin D.
- Portobello Mushrooms: A cup of diced Portobello mushrooms has only 22 calories, but provides about 64% of the daily vitamin D intake, as well as high amounts of vitamins and antioxidants. A cup of diced Portobello mushrooms provides 384 IU of vitamin D.
-- Beef liver- The consumption of 3.5 oz of beef liver will provide IU of vitamin D, and high amounts of vitamin A, protein and iron
-- Cod liver oil- It is one of the purest sources of vitamin D, and a tablespoon contains 1,300 IU of vitamin D.
-- Oranges- They are the only fruit that contains this vitamin, and a cup of oranges juice provides 100 IU of vitamin D
-- Mixed Vegetables- You can prepare various meals by mixing various vegetables, like homemade soups and stews, and optimize your vitamin D levels.
Optimizing your vitamin D levels can be fun and delicious. Here is one tasty recipe that will help you increase the intake of vitamin D-rich foods:
Unicorn smoothie- Recipe
- 1 cup frozen blackberries or blueberries
- 1 cup frozen mango chunks
- 1 cup frozen raspberries or strawberries
- 1½ cups low-fat vanilla yogurt, divided
- 3 large bananas, divided
- Star fruit, kiwi, mixed berries and chia seeds for garnish
Mix ½ cup each milk and yogurt, 1 banana and blackberries (or blueberries) in a blender. Blend until smooth, and divide the mixture among 4 glasses, and store them in the freezer.
Then, mix ½ cup each milk and yogurt, 1 banana and mango chunks in the blender, and pour the mixture over the first layer in the glasses, and store them again in the freezer.
Blend the remaining ½ cup each milk and yogurt, the remaining banana and raspberries (or strawberries) and divide the mixture over the yellow layer in the glasses. Now, run a skewer around the edges to swirl the layers slightly.
You can sprinkle with chia seeds, and garnish the glasses with kiwi, star fruit slices, and berries on wooden skewers. Enjoy!