Fall and winter are full of exquisite pleasures, from snow-softened holidays to fires in the fireplace. Alas, ‘tis the season to more than just glittering Christmas trees and plates of sugar cookies. Wind, rain, hail, progressively lower temperatures—all can incite an increased desire to shield ourselves from those dreaded colds that often arrive in fall and winter. Caring mothers up the ante on their kids’ vitamin C, hand sanitizers are used with a heightened vigilance and there are more bottles of Airborne floating around airport lobbies than magazines.
But what’s often overlooked as we steer through the colder seasons is the importance of also staying mindful of our vitamin D intake.
Vitamin D is frequently referred to as the Sunshine Vitamin for a reason. Found in foods that range from cow’s milk to salmon, vitamin D—a vital nutrient that organically supports cell growth and immune function—is made through your body’s exposure to ultraviolet rays from sunlight. Meaning, if you spend the majority of your days working inside and live outside of the sunnier states of Florida and Hawaii, you may not be receiving sufficient sunlight to avoid low vitamin D levels during fall and winter. (Ask your doctor to run a blood test to know your levels.)
While this may seem like just another reason to prefer June to January, consider this: The Sunshine Vitamin is also crucial for bone health, in that it operates as a signal to your intestines to absorb calcium from your diet when your calcium levels are low. Indeed, infants, children, adults, and seniors need a healthy daily dose of this critical nutrient, with the RDA for infants being 400 IU/day; 600 IU/day for adults, and 800 IU/day for individuals over the age of 70. (Women should be particularly careful about their vitamin D levels, as studies have shown that female bones degrade at a faster rate than males.) What’s more, vitamin D naturally supports brain and lung function and organically supports oral and cardiovascular health—rendering this a nutrient not to be missed.*
Ways to get more vitamin D
Before you cancel Christmas with your sister in Vermont for an impromptu trip to Bali, do know that it’s possible to sustain adequate vitamin D levels in the fall and winter through your diet and, if possible, sun exposure (however thin the light). Leading researcher on bone health and author of The Vitamin D Solution Dr. Michael F. Holick recommends exposing your hands, face, and arms to sunlight for approximately 15 minutes two to three times per week (giving you the excuse to take lunch in the park on a cloudless day). Make a point to take in the sun’s warmth between the hours of 8 am and 4 pm, and keep in mind that sunscreens with an SPF greater than 8 block those ultraviolet rays of sunlight, thus resulting in less Vitamin D production.
Additionally—and just as enjoyably—you can naturally fortify your vitamin D levels by making a few modifications to your diet. Always eat your cereal dry? Consider adding 2% or whole milk—it’s been bolstered with vitamin D since the 1930s, and a single cup contains about a fourth of your daily requirement. Tend to request egg white-only omelettes? Go for the gold (as in the yolk): 1 large egg yolk has approximately 37 IU of vitamin D. And you’re in luck if you count sushi as one of your go-to meals: Fatty fishes—including trout, mackerel, eel, and tuna—serve as excellent sources of vitamin D, with 3 ounces of sockeye salmon providing around 450 IU; those who prefer their fish sautéed with lemon can find a fourth of their RDA of vitamin D in flatfishes like sole and flounder.
Happen to be a vegetarian? Check out certain brands of mushrooms. Dole’s Portobello Mushrooms, for example, contain roughly 400 IU, while shitake mushrooms—always splendid in a stir fry—offer around 5 percent of your daily requirement. Tofu, lean pork, fortified goat and ricotta cheese, and vitamin D-enhanced cereals like Raisin Bran and Special K are also solid options. Those with dietary restrictions—particularly individuals who are lactose intolerant—may want to add soy milk, blackstrap molasses, collard greens, and kale to their grocery list. Or try pak-choi: This Chinese cabbage has approximately 80 mg of vitamin D per cup, and tastes terrific when paired with garlic and ginger.
Eager to start looking for ways to include more of the Sunshine Vite in your diet this fall and winter? Consider preparing grilled salmon with a cucumber-yogurt dressing with a side of steamed spinach and a citrus-enhanced glass of seltzer—all of which are rich in this key nutrient. Then chill out with a dish of Turkey Hill’s Vanilla Bean frozen yogurt, which provides 80 IU per serving. It may not be a trip to Bali, but it’ll certainly offer your taste buds a slice of paradise.