Making Sure You Get Enough Vitamin D While Protecting Yourself From the Sun

Eileen Bailey Health Guide October 31, 2012
  • We know how important it is to protect our skin from the UV rays of the sun. The sun’s rays cause premature aging, wrinkles, dark spots and is a leading cause of skin cancer. But the sun also provides us with Vitamin D, an essential nutrient.

     

    Why Do We Need Vitamin D?


    Our bodies cannot properly absorb calcium and phosphorus without Vitamin D. These nutrients are needed for strong bones and teeth, not only while we are growing but throughout our lives. Having the right levels of calcium reduces the risk of bone fractures. Vitamin D also is important to the immune system, helping us to resist some diseases.

     

    Children who do not get enough Vitamin D may have rickets, or bones that cannot support their weight. In adults without enough Vitamin D, bones may become soft or lose bone mass – leading to diseases such as osteoporosis.

     

    Sunlight and Vitamin D


    Sunlight is a major source of Vitamin D. When exposed to the sunlight, our skin produces Vitamin D. Some physicians believe that 5 to 10 minutes of exposure to the sun each day (without protection) can help us make sure we are getting enough Vitamin D to ward off illnesses such as bone diseases and certain cancers including prostate, colon and breast cancer.

     

    But many other experts believe that this is a dangerous approach because of the increased risk of developing skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation, as well as most dermatologists, believe that “all unprotected UV exposure contributes to cumulative skin damage, accelerating aging and increasing our lifetime risk of skin cancer.” [1] These experts believe that you should always use sun protection and get the needed Vitamin D through your diet.

     

    How much Vitamin D Do We Need?


    The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies (formerly the National Academy of Sciences) provides Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for various vitamins and minerals. The RDA for Vitamin D is 600 IU (International Units) per day for all people (including women who are pregnant and breastfeeding) over the age of 12 months and under the age of 70. Under 12 months is 400 IU and over 70, the RDA would increase to 800 IU.

     

    Foods Containing Vitamin D


    Oily fish, fortified dairy products (milk is fortified with Vitamin D but other dairy products, such as ice cream, is not) and cereals are a good source of Vitamin D. But there are a variety of foods that can help you get up to 600 IU per day.

    • Cod liver oil
    • Swordfish
    • Salmon
    • Tuna
    • Some orange juice is fortified with Vitamin D
    • Fortified milk
    • Fortified yogurt
    • Sardines
    • Beef liver
    • Eggs
    • Ready-to-eat cereal
    • Swiss Cheese

    Check product labels for the amount of Vitamin D in the foods you eat. For example, you may want to switch to a brand of orange juice that contains Vitamin D and check different ready-to-eat cereals to find out which ones have the most Vitamin D.

     

    If you find that you are not getting the recommended amount of Vitamin D from your diet, daily vitamins or supplements can help get you there.

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    References:

     

    “Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D,” Reviewed 2011, June 24, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health

     

    “Facts About Vitamin D,” 2010, Dec, Linda B. Bobroff and Isabel Valentin-Oquendo, University of Florida

     

    [1] “The D Dilemma,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, The Skin Cancer Foundation

     

    “Vitamin D and Sun Safety,” Revised 2011, March, Staff Writer, National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention