I was actually surprised to learn last year that I was mildly deficient in vitamin D. I was getting a routine physical at the doctor and he decided to pull a lab value for me. The normal range is 30.0 to 74.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), and I fell at 20ng/mL! I now take 1,000 IU of vitamin D supplements per day, plus extra calcium and my level has come back to normal.
If you tend to stay out of the sun, have milk intolerance or allergies, or follow a strict vegan diet, you may be at risk for a vitamin D deficiency. A diet without animal based products such as fish and fish oils, egg yolks, cheese, and milk can lead to a deficiency.
Why do we need vitamin D?
Vitamin D is so important for bone health, by helping our bodies absorb calcium. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis or osteomalacia (bone softening).
There have also been some recent studies that have shown that a vitamin D deficiency increases your risk for type 1 diabetes, muscle and bone pain, and even certain types of cancers. It also increases your risk for heart attacks, arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D also has a role in reducing blood pressure. Recent studies have also shown that a low level of vitamin D can be associated with depression and anxiety.
Vitamin D is so important for our body that we actually make it ourselves with sun exposure. In the US, only people who live in the southern US get enough sunlight for vitamin D production throughout the year. Those who work inside all day are also at risk for a deficiency.
Which blood test can determine if I’m deficient?
Your doctor can order a test for 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-ODH). Those with a level of 12-20 ng/mL are at risk for a vitamin D deficiency. The ideal level range is between 30 – 74 ng/mL.
How much vitamin D do we need?
If you get no vitamin D from the sun, and you get adequate amounts of calcium, the Institute of Medicine recommends getting 600 IU/day of vitamin D from diet or supplements for people 9-70 years of age. The Vitamin D Council recommends an intake of 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily and more if they don’t get any sun exposure. Be careful with over supplementation however. Too much can cause a high blood calcium level, which results in nausea, constipation, confusion, abnormal heart rhythm and even kidney stones.
How can I get more vitamin D?
Being outside for about thirty minutes, twice a week without sunscreen, should allow your body to produce enough vitamin D. But too much sun exposure without protection increases your risk of skin cancer. It’s probably better to get vitamin D from food or supplements.
Surprisingly few foods actually contain vitamin D naturally, because our bodies are meant to absorb it through the skin. But once your body has enough, it doesn’t matter if you get it through your skin or stomach. Salmon, mackerel and mushrooms are great sources. Other sources include tuna, sardines, milk and yogurt fortified with vitamin D, egg yolks and cheese. Nearly all milk and orange juice in the U.S. is fortified with vitamin D.
If you want to use a supplement, the recommended form is vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol. This is the natural form that your body makes from sunlight.
Do you take vitamin D supplements?
Hi! I’m Emily, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and self-taught intuitive chef. I firmly believe that cooking is the simplest and most important step we can take to improve our minds and bodies and build healthier communities. Join me and let’s bring food back to the kitchen!