Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin

Published: Nov. 19, 2019 at 4:21 AM CST
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Vitamin D helps with calcium and phosphorus absorption, but it’s not just for the bones! Vitamin D is also important for the health of your nerves, muscles, and immune system. It plays a role in regulating insulin levels, diabetes management, supporting lung function, and cardiovascular health. Recent research even shows a link between vitamin D deficiencies and depression.

The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 600 International Units (IU) and for those over the age of 70 it’s 800 IU of Vitamin D. This is a baseline recommendation.

Where do we get it?

We get vitamin D by three ways: through diet, supplements, and our skin. Yes, Vitamin D is so important your body makes it with a little help from the sun! The exact amount of active Vitamin D that gets made from ultraviolet B (UVB) rays is difficult to predict. Many factors play a role, strength of the UVB light, health of our skin, amount of pigment in our skin cells, and sun screen. For example, a SPF 30 lotion will reduce vitamin D synthesis by over 95%. Yet if we never use sun screen, we are at risk of skin damage and increased cancer risks. This is a balancing act in the summer. In the winter months many Iowans and individuals living in the upper one-third of the U.S. have difficulty maintaining adequate vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D Foods

Focusing on vitamin D rich foods during these winter months is especially important. Fatty fish like canned chunk light tuna, wild salmon (pink or sockeye), sardines canned in oil (drained), Atlantic herring, Eastern oysters, mackerel, and cod liver oil naturally contain vitamin D. Eggs (yolks) and beef liver are also good sources; if you avoid these foods because of the cholesterol content, don’t worry. A review of science revealed dietary cholesterol intake doesn’t impact your blood cholesterol levels.

Some foods are fortified with Vitamin D, meaning it is added during the processing. For example, milk is fortified and contains about 100 IU per cup. All milk (fat-free, 1%, 2% and whole) contains the same amount of vitamin D. Other fortified foods include yogurt, breakfast cereals, orange juice, soy milk, and almond milk.

Research-Based Recommendations

Despite the ability to get vitamin D from food and the sun, an estimated 40-75% of people are deficient. It’s recognized by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines as a nutrient of concern. It’s so important, it will be a required nutrient for the new nutrition food label. Look for foods with 20% Daily Value (%DV) or more.

To reach the therapeutic levels recommended by the scientific research community, a dietary supplement would be required. Don’t rush out and get a supplement though! Not only can medications interact with different vitamins and minerals, but vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means the body can’t easily get rid of it if we take too much. Before starting a supplement it’s important to speak with your health care provider to ensure it’s safe for you.

Spend Smart Eat Smart Recipe
Spicy Tuna Salad


• 1 can or pouch (5 oz), chunk light tuna, drained

• ½ cup cooked beans, rinsed and drained

• ½ cup salsa

• ¼ cup shredded cheese

• ¼ cup peppers, diced

• ¼ cup onions, diced

• Optional Ingredients: tortilla, lettuce leaves, baked tortilla chips, mixed salad greens


1. Stir tuna, beans, salsa, cheese, peppers, and onions together in a bowl.

2. Serve right away or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

3. Serve as a dip for baked tortilla chips, in a wrap with lettuce leaves or a tortilla, or try it as a salad topping.


• You can make this a spicy dish by using hot salsa and jalapeno peppers. You can make this a mild dish by using mild salsa and bell peppers.

Spicy Tuna Salad: Serves 4 (1/2 cup) | $0.65 per serving

Nutrition information (per serving): 110 calories, 3g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 20mg cholesterol, 290mg sodium, 9g total carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 2g sugar, 13g protein

Recipe courtesy of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website:


Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics – Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

Harvard Health Medical School - Vitamin D: Finding a Balance

Healthline – Dietary Cholesterol

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