If you think vitamin D is only necessary for building and maintaining strong bones, think again. While this fat-soluble vitamin-which is sometimes referred to as the "sunshine vitamin" because it is naturally produced in the body when the sun's ultraviolet rays are absorbed into the skin-is vital for bone growth and a deficiency of it could lead to bone-related conditions (like fractures and osteoporosis), it holds other essential health benefits, too. "Every type of tissue and cell in the body has receptors for vitamin D or its metabolites," says Julie Upton, MS, RD, co-founder of Appetite for Health.
"It's known to help regulate some 2,000 genes that control everything from appetite regulation to cancer cell death and immune system regulation." In fact, studies conducted over the last two years have found that a lack of vitamin D could increase risk of chronic headaches and bladder cancer. On the contrary, adequate amounts of this vitamin have been linked to improved heart health (reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke) and protection against colds and flu.
Since spending leisure time outdoors under the sun's rays each day isn't a reality for most of us, many people rely on supplements for their daily dose of vitamin D. The National Institutes of Health reports that the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends 600 IU (International Units) per day, yet some medical experts say adults can tolerate up to 4,000 IU each day without experiencing adverse effects. That said, even though only a few foods are fortified with significant amounts of vitamin D, you can still boost your sunshine vitamin intake through your diet, adds Upton.
Eggs: It's all about the yolks. That's right-the little ball of sunshine inside of one egg holds 41 IU of vitamin D. While eggs have been deemed unhealthy at times over the years, this protein-packed any-time-of-day food has been shown to be a nutritional powerhouse. The American Heart Association points out that all animal products, including eggs, can raise blood cholesterol levels because of their saturated fat content. Consult with your doctor if you need to reduce your LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
Beef liver: Okay, while beef liver may not sound like the most appetizing food, a 3-ounce serving of this high-quality protein contains 42 IU of vitamin D. Also, this nutrient-dense meat is loaded with iron (for cellular health), zinc (for regulating immune function), vitamin A (for eye health), and folate (for DNA repair). Liver and onions, anyone?
Milk: Whether you prefer whole, reduced-fat, or non-fat milk, one cup of this vitamin D-fortified dairy delight can contain between 115 and 124 IU. Keep in mind that milk alternatives, including rice milk, coconut milk, and almond milk, may-or may not-provide a substantial amount of vitamin D (depending on the brand and the product).
Yogurt: While it varies by type, as well as by brand, protein-rich yogurt that is fortified with vitamin D can contain approximately 80 IU (per 6-ounce serving). However, many of the fortified versions of this good-for-your-gut breakfast and snack food are flavored, which means the sugar count can be on the high side. Read the nutrition label in order to choose the healthiest option.
Orange juice: One cup (or 8 ounces) of this refreshing beverage can contain up to 137 IU of vitamin D. Yet not all juices are created equal-read the product label to make sure your carton of this citrus drink is not from concentrate and is fortified with vitamin D (and most likely calcium, as well).
Certain mushrooms: Mushrooms are the only source of vitamin D that can be found in the produce aisle, states the Mushroom Council. However, growers have the ability to expose this low-calorie, high-fiber food to ultraviolet (UV) light in order to boost its levels of vitamin D. The mushrooms that are likely to soak up big quantities of the UV light include brown (crimini), portabello, maitake, and white. (Check the food label for any mention of vitamin D or UV exposure.)
Cod liver oil: This nutrient-dense oil that's packed with omega-3 fatty acids tops the food list as the best source of vitamin D outside of supplements, since one tablespoon contains 1,360 IU. If you're not interested in swallowing this distilled fish oil straight from the spoon, try drizzling it on a salad or adding it to a smoothie. (Some brands also add a touch of lemon, orange, or mint flavor to boost the taste.)
Salmon: This popular cold-water fish is widely known for being an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, as well as protein, minerals, and vitamins-one being vitamin D (one serving, which is 3 ounces, contains 447 IU). Whether enjoyed pan-fried, grilled, smoked, baked, broiled, seared, or sautéed, it's recommended to opt for fresh or frozen wild-caught salmon, if available.
Tuna fish: Three ounces of this inexpensive canned fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin A. And this lean protein is also a good source of the sunshine vitamin, containing 154 IU in a 3-ounce serving. Choose water-packed tuna for a lower calorie count and a higher amount of omega-3s, states Berkeley Wellness. (excerpt)
The writer is a senior contributor at www.womansday.com
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