How to get enough Vitamin D during the not-so-sunny months

·3-min read
Photo credit: Elena Popova - Getty Images
Photo credit: Elena Popova - Getty Images

We know in principle that for optimum health we should be getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals through our lifestyle and our diet. But sometimes it can be tricky, especially when it comes to Vitamin D - given that it's mainly derived from sunlight exposure (and, err, well... have you seen how unpredictable UK weather is?).

"An adequate supply of vitamin D, also known as the 'sunshine vitamin', is essential all year round to keep your body healthy," Dr Michele Sadler, Nutritionist and Scientific Advisor to the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association tells Cosmopolitan UK. "Not only is it good for bones and teeth, but research has shown that it also plays a role in the immune system."

In fact, medical experts rate vitamin D so highly for its immune system-boosting properties and other health benefits that Public Health England even changed its advice to recommend the public take 10 micrograms of the vitamin a day throughout the pandemic.

Photo credit: Florian Kuettler - Getty Images
Photo credit: Florian Kuettler - Getty Images

Vitamin D is naturally produced in the body when the skin is exposed to UVB sunlight, but it doesn't work through glass - which means we need to look for other options. "Your body naturally produces vitamin D when it's directly exposed to sunlight containing ultraviolet B radiation. It’s important that everyone has daily exposure to sunlight outdoors, particularly during the spring and summer months, as ultraviolet B does not penetrate through glass," the nutritionist explains.

Taking a supplement is one way to top up your vitamin D intake, but what else can you do when you can't spend much time outside? Nutritionist Dr Michele Sadler talks us through the best foods for vitamin d and more:

What are vitamin D-rich foods?

"As there are only a handful of foods that contain significant amounts of vitamin D, it is difficult to get enough of it from your diet alone," says Dr Michele. But that doesn't mean you can't give yourself a helping hand by focussing on the foods that will boost your vitamin D levels.

"Fatty fish is one of the richest natural food sources of vitamin D," advises the expert, who also suggests including the following foods in your diet wherever possible:

  • Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel

  • Red meat, kidney and liver

  • Eggs (particularly egg yolks)

  • Fortified fat spreads

  • Fortified breakfast cereals

  • Vitamin D2 enhanced mushrooms

Photo credit: Aamulya - Getty Images
Photo credit: Aamulya - Getty Images

Take your daily exercise outside

The government actively advises one daily exercise session, and this is allowed to take place outside. So make the most of it! "Getting outside for the allowed daily exercise, especially when the sun is shining is a good opportunity to top up vitamin D levels," notes Dr Michele.

"Sunlight is most effective during late March to September for making vitamin D in the skin. With the current UK situation, it is important to take advantage of sunny days to get out for regular exercise. Exposing the forearms, hands or lower legs to the sun, without sunscreen, for a short time between 11am and 3pm will help keep blood levels of vitamin D topped up," she says. So lace up those trainers and get yourself out for a walk or a run - or if you're lucky enough to have a garden, try to exercise out there.

Take a daily supplement

Supplements can feel confusing; with so many offerings, what's necessary and what's not? But according to the nutritionist, where vitamin D is concerned, you're good to go with almost anything you can find. "There are a wide range of vitamin D supplements available including tablets and capsules, sprays, liquids, drops and gummies. Sources of vitamin D suitable for vegetarians and vegans are also available – look for vitamin D2," Dr Michele says.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Alternatively, she advises that fish liver oil supplements such as cod liver oil are a good source, although the content can vary – so you're warned to check on the label. "Remember, to meet the government recommendation, you are aiming supplement with 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily," notes the expert.

Dr Michele Sadler is a Nutritionist and Scientific Advisor to the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA).

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