Why is vitamin D important?
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins for our overall health but it’s also one that some of us aren’t getting enough of.
Vitamin D is probably best known for its contribution to our bone health by helping our bodies to absorb calcium and phosphorus, key minerals for strong bones. It’s important to help our muscles move but it’s not just our bones that need calcium. Vitamin D also contributes to normal blood calcium levels. 1
How is vitamin D made?
Vitamin D is one of the only vitamins that our bodies are able to make for ourselves through the synthesis of sunlight (hence known as the sunshine vitamin). Unlike vitamin C, it is stored in our bodies. But, without sufficient sunlight, it is unlikely our bodies will be able to make it naturally.
We can look to our diets to ingest vitamin D and there are some foods that will help us to do this although the list is not as long as that for other vitamins and minerals – please see below. But first, let’s look at why we need it.
Vitamin D and our bones
Our bone mass consists of calcium and builds during our early years. In our twenties and later years our bones start to lose density, a decline that accelerates as we age. So, the more bone mass you are able to accumulate as a child and young adult, the greater amount you will have in the bank when, in later years, new bone tissue is no longer deposited.2 As vitamin D is important in helping our body to absorb calcium from the gut, it is a vital element in this process.
Vitamin D and our immune systems
In recent years, the importance of vitamin D has been linked to our immune systems and is known to contribute to its normal function. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (the NCBI), there is a growing understanding of the implications of vitamin D deficiency on our immune systems – ‘in the context of vitamin D deficiency, there appears to be an increased susceptibility to infection’.3
Vitamin D and our mood
Many people associate vitamin D with sunshine and holidays, factors that automatically lift our spirits. And, although not scientifically proven, there is also a growing link between vitamin D deficiency and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 4 This condition features depressive symptoms that generally occur during times of the year when there is little sunlight and is often treated with light therapy.
Where is vitamin D found?
Aside from sunlight, as we mentioned earlier, we can look to our diets. For this we need to focus on oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herrings and sardines, red meat, liver, egg yolks, all of which contain vitamin D.5
Oysters are also a good source but probably not one most of us would include in our usual weekly meal plan! We can look for fortified food products such as cheese, spreads and dairy products. And we can also look at nutritional supplements.
Are vitamin D supplements effective?
In 2016, Public Health England, following recommendations from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), advised that we should consider taking daily supplements of vitamin D during the autumn and winter months where we cannot consume recommended levels through our diet. 6 The reason for this is that, during these months, we are unlikely to be able to get sufficient vitamin D through sunlight. But it went further to suggest that people whose skin has little or no exposure to the sun risk vitamin D deficiency and need to take a supplement throughout the year. It also highlights the fact that those with ‘dark skin, from African, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds, may not get enough vitamin D from sunlight in the summer and therefore should consider taking a supplement all year round.’ We need to bear in mind this is in the context of British weather!
How can we boost vitamin D through our diets?
As above, there are various foods that naturally contain vitamin D which you can incorporate as part of a healthy diet, providing you are not lactose intolerant, vegan or a strict vegetarian. If you eat fish, are a pescatarian, or even flexitarian, here are two recipe ideas which are high in vitamin D. We hope you enjoy these and please do share any of your favorite recipes with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to try them.
Roasted salmon with pan fried asparagus and egg (serves 4)
2 cooked salmon fillets (poached or roasted)
500 g asparagus
500 g spinach
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 lemons cut into wedges
• Drizzle your asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
• Bring a non-stick frying pan up to a high heat and add the asparagus, stirring constantly for two minutes. Remove and set aside.
• Using the same frying pan add the remaining oil and butter along with salt and pepper, bring the heat up to medium and add your spinach. Keep this moving to gently wilt and be coated in the oil and butter. Once done turn the heat off.
• At the same time, bring a deep frying pan of water to a boil for your eggs. When boiling, turn the heat to a low simmer and give it a swirl with a spoon, then gently crack your egg as close to the water as you can and let the swirl settle the egg whites into place. Continue with all four and cook for about three minutes. Once cooked scoop out with a large slotted spoon and place the eggs onto a paper towel to soak up excess water.
• Divide the salmon, asparagus and spinach onto four plates and place an egg on top.
• Serve with a good amount of black pepper and a lemon wedge.
Lemon Sardine Linguine (serves 4)
400 g dried linguine
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp finely sliced shallot
2 tsp chili flakes
1 garlic clove (minced)
2 x 120 g cans boneless sardine fillets (drained)
1 lemon (juice and zest)
1 Tbsp flat leaf parsley
2 Tbsp baby kale
• Cook the linguine according to package instructions. Drain and keep back two tablespoons of the cooking water. Toss the pasta in the pan you cooked it in with the reserved cooking water and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Keep warm.
• While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan to hot, but not smoking.
• Add the shallot and cook for one minute. Add the chili flakes and stir. Lower the heat slightly and add the garlic. Stir well and cook for one minute.
• Add the drained sardines to the pan stirring carefully to avoid breaking them up too much. Finally add the lemon zest and stir again.
• Add parsley and baby kale and stir the sardine sauce in with the linguine. Add salt and pepper to taste – finish with a drizzle of lemon juice and serve.