Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is a necessary nutrient that is produced when the body is exposed to sunlight.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for many bodily functions including strengthening the bones, supporting cell growth and regulation, retaining and absorbing calcium and phosphorus, and improving immunity. The sunshine vitamin is naturally found in some foods and when consumed in excess, it is stored in the body rather than being flushed out through the urine like many other vitamins.
Health Benefits of The Sunshine Vitamin
- It supports immunity
Vitamin D does a lot to keep your immune system functioning at its very best. It regulates both the innate and adaptive immune response in the body by interacting with vitamin D receptors on the immune cells and regulating their activity.
- It may help boost your mood
People with depression typically have lower levels of vitamin D, but some studies make it clear that a deficiency doesn’t necessarily cause depression. Individuals that struggle with depression may have a poor appetite, lack of self-care and are more isolated, putting them at risk for vitamin D deficiency. This is because when dealing with depression you may not get adequate nutrition or exposure to sunlight (from being isolated) to keep your vitamin D at healthy levels.
Vitamin D has been shown to increase the production of the “feel good” hormone serotonin, which is responsible for mood regulation and preventing high levels of anxiety and depression. One small study found that sunshine vitamin supplementation in women with type 2 diabetes improved mood and there was a significant decrease in depression and anxiety, but larger studies are needed to confirm this.
- It might lower the risk of heart disease
Heart disease remains the number one cause of mortality in the nation, therefore it is imperative to do your best to maintain a healthy heart. Like skeletal muscles, heart muscles are regulated when vitamin D interacts with vitamin D receptors in the cells. When it comes to blood pressure, the sunshine vitamin regulates blood pressure by acting on endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells.
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- It keeps your bones strong
The sunshine vitamin is vital for the health of your bones. Specifically, it enhances the absorption of calcium in the small intestine and stimulates osteoclast (a type of bone cell that breaks down bone tissue) differentiation and calcium reabsorption of bone. Additionally, vitamin D promotes the mineralization of the collagen matrix in the bone. Vitamin D’s role in calcium absorption and bone health also strengthens the teeth, lowering the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
- It might give you an energy boost
If you are constantly fatigued, getting more vitamin D might give you the energy boost you need. Vitamin D has an impact on the function of the mitochondria, the part of a cell that produces energy.
- It supports female sex hormones
Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common in reproductive aged women. Recent studies suggest that the sunshine vitamin plays an essential role in helping to regulate female sex hormones and that low vitamin D levels can increase the risk for adverse maternal and fetal health outcomes. Additionally, low levels of the sunshine vitamin are involved in the development of specific hormone disorders including polycystic ovarian syndrome (a condition in which there is an imbalance of sex hormones). If you struggle with PMS symptoms, the good news is that getting enough vitamin D may reduce symptoms, according to a systematic review.
Our bodies produce the sunshine vitamin when exposed to sunlight. There are a few reasons why it’s hard to get enough vitamin D this way.
To reduce the risk of skin cancer, it’s smart to cover up, wear sunscreen, and avoid being outside during peak sun hours. And depending on where you live in the world, it may just not be possible to have enough year-round sun exposure.
Here are 7 healthy foods that are high in vitamin D
- Cod liver oil (34 mcg per 1 tablespoon serving)
- Salmon (14.2 mcg per 3 oz serving)
- Mushrooms (9.2 mcg per ½ cup serving)
- Fortified milk (2.9 mcg per 1 cup serving) and milk alternatives (2.5-3.6 mcg per 1 cup serving)
- Fortified orange juice (2.5mcg per 1 cup serving)
- Fortified cereal (2.0 mcg per 1 cup serving)
- Beef liver (1.0 mcg per 3 oz serving)
Daily recommended Dose of vitamin D
The daily value (DV) for vitamin D is 800 IU (20 mcg). The vitamin D content is listed as a percentage of the DV on the nutrition facts label on food packages. This tells you what amount of your daily vitamin D requirement the food will provide.
It’s best to get vitamin D from food or supplements.
Although some foods are fortified with the sunshine vitamin, like orange juice, milk or some cereals. It’s always best to get your nutrients from food first as it’s more potent, but sometimes it can be challenging to rely on food alone. Healthcare providers may recommend a supplement to help you meet your daily vitamin D requirements and ensure your levels are within normal range. The key is to not overdo it.
Getting enough vitamin D from your diet alone may be difficult, but not impossible. The foods listed in this article are some of the top sources of vitamin D available.
Eating plenty of these foods rich in vitamin D is a great way to make sure you get enough of this important nutrient.