SGV Tribune

Nutrition: Why this vitamin is especially important during safer-at-home measures

Many folks are unsure how much vitamin D they actually need.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for the body. This fat-soluble vitamin plays an important role in numerous processes in the body from bone health to immune function while aiding in chronic disease prevention. A limited number of foods naturally contain vitamin D. Typically, most people meet at least part of their vitamin D needs from sunlight exposure. The warmer and sunnier days of spring and summer are ideal for boosting vitamin D levels. With “Safer at Home” measures in place due to COVID-19, many of us are cooped up inside more than usual. Take a proactive approach now to maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels to support your health.

Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium in the gut to maintain adequate calcium and phosphorus in the bloodstream. It is vital for preventing bone problems in children and adults through its role in bone growth and bone remodeling. Additionally, nerves need vitamin D to carry signals between the brain and the body. Plus, vitamin D is being studied for its potential role in medical concerns like diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disease and hypertension.

Many folks are unsure how much vitamin D they actually need. The average daily recommended amount depends on age and life stage and ranges from 600 IU to 800 IU daily for toddlers to older adults. However, there is some controversy and a growing body of scientific literature reconsidering the ideal blood vitamin D concentrations and how much vitamin D is needed daily to maintain these levels.

The daily upper limit for vitamin D ranges from 2,500 IU to 4,000 IU for toddlers through older adulthood including pregnant and nursing mothers. While vitamin D toxicity can occur, it is unlikely a result of foods and almost always attributed to overuse of dietary supplements containing vitamin D.

Food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. Some studies suggest that wild-caught salmon has more vitamin D than farmed salmon. Egg yolks, particularly from pasture-raised chickens, can be a great source of vitamin D. The quality of the hens’ food and time spent outdoors in sunlight impact the vitamin D content of the eggs. Mushrooms can be a good plant-based source of vitamin D.

There are some foods that are fortified with vitamin D. This means that they are not naturally a good source of the vitamin, but it is added during manufacturing and processing. These foods include dairy milk, non-dairy milk, vitamin D fortified orange juice, breakfast cereals, yogurt and tofu. Not all products in these categories are fortified, so check the food label to be sure.

While individuals with lighter skin need about 15 minutes of sun exposure to get a dose of vitamin D, sunscreen and clothing inhibit this process. In addition, those with darker skin tones and older adults have less efficient production of vitamin D in the skin.

Some people may benefit from a daily vitamin D supplement especially vegans, nursing infants and those with diagnosed vitamin D deficiency. If you find yourself lacking in both sunlight exposure and regular intake of vitamin D foods, you may consider taking a vitamin D supplement. If you already take a daily multivitamin it likely already contains some vitamin D. Since many vitamin D supplements are derived from animal products, vegans and vegetarians can select vegan-friendly plant-based vitamin D2 supplements.

It is best to choose dietary supplements tested for purity and quality by a third party such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). USP has a verification program for dietary supplements. Check supplement packaging labels for USP approval when selecting a high-quality dietary supplement. The amount of vitamin D to supplement with depends on your blood vitamin D level. Speak with your healthcare provider about whether a vitamin D test is recommended and what dose is right for you.

 LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at