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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Are you at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?

One of the nutrients of concern in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is vitamin D because today so many Americans are not getting enough of this nutrient. Vitamin D has become a hot topic as so many researchers are finding out how very important this nutrient is to our health. Not too long ago vitamin D deficiency was rare. Children drank milk with their meals and played outside. Now many parents don't give their children milk with meals anymore and many keep their children inside all day. Not surprisingly, these are the type of children that could be at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Adults who limit their intake of milk and who are mostly indoors may also be at risk.
How much vitamin D do you need?
Because so many Americans are at risk of vitamin D deficiency and so many important roles have been found for vitamin D, the Institute of Medicine recently increased the recommended intake for vitamin D.
Recommended Vitamin D Intake
1 year – 70 years
600 IU (up from 200 IU)
  • over 70
800 IU (up from 600 IU)
Sources of vitamin D:
So what foods provide us with vitamin D? Not many.

  • Milk is fortified with 100 IU of vitamin D per cup. To get your daily 600 IU of vitamin D from milk, you would need to drink 6 cups of milk a day. But vitamin D is being added to other foods. Many women get extra vitamin D from a Calcium + vitamin D supplement.
  • Other foods - Some yogurt is fortified with vitamin D but you need to read the label. The Target brand yogurt isn't fortified with vitamins A or D. (Correction:  6/20/2011 - I looked at the Target yogurt today and it now is fortified with vitamin A and D. Good for Target for making their yogurt more nutriitious.)   Some orange juice is fortified with vitamin D as are some ready to eat cereals.
  • Sunlight - Your skin can also manufacture vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. Only 15-30 minutes of sunshine a few days a week and your body will make all the vitamin D it needs.
So why do we need vitamin D?
Most people know we need vitamin D for our bones. (Vitamin D works with calcium to build strong bones.) However, in recent years researchers have found out that vitamin D is crucial to many, many functions in our bodies.

  • Bones – vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium which you need for strong bones. Since milk is fortified with vitamin D, our bodies can absorb the calcium in milk. Eating yogurt that is fortified with vitamin D is also good as we can then better absorb the calcium in yogurt. But you need to read labels as not all yogurt is fortified with vitamin D. .
  • Heart Disease – those deficient in vitamin D are at greater risk for heart disease.
  • Asthma – children with low levels of vitamin D have more severe asthma according to researchers.
  • Cancer – vitamin D may offer some protection for some forms of cancer including colon cancer and prostate cancer. Vitamin D deficiency worsens the prognosis for women with breast cancer.
  • Type 1 diabetes – children who get enough vitamin D from foods (e.g. milk) or the sun have a lower risk of developing Type 1 diabetes.
  • Infections – vitamin D may reduce the risk of infections like colds and the flu. In a recent study adults with healthy levels of vitamin D were less likely to develop respiratory infections. Schoolchildren who had sufficient vitamin D throughout the winter were 40% less likely to develop the flu. So it seems vitamin D has a role to play in helping our immune systems fight off infections.
Good resources for more information:

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