The Scoop on Vitamin D

Sun shining down through tree branchesVitamin D, also called the “Sunshine Vitamin”, because it can be made by the body with the help of sunlight, is a fat-soluble vitamin.  That means it’s  absorbed in fat and can be stored in the body for months.

The American Academy of Dermatology has found it unsafe to be in the sun without protection for any amount of time, therefore it has recommended to get vitamin D solely through food and supplement sources.

Other sources such as the vitamin D council and other health experts believe that some sun exposure is an effective and preferred choice for obtaining vitamin D.

Whether your choice is supplementation or sunlight, it’s important to correct for vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D absorbs and maintain calcium and phosphorus levels which helps build strong bones, it prevents fractures and boosts immune function. But Vitamin D has been also found to be protective in a variety of other illnesses, such as: heart disease, osteoporosis, hypertension, some cancers and diabetes.

There has been some disagreements with the recommended guidelines of vitamin D but the IOM has established the guidelines to be as follows:

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin D:

ages 1 -70 yrs old = 600 IU/day

> 70 yrs of age = 800 IU/day

“At risk” individuals (see below) should get vitamin D levels checked by the doctor and consider increasing  vitamin D intake through food or supplements.

At Risk Individuals are:

  • People that are overweight or obese.
  • People with darker skin tone.
  • People who spend most time indoors.
  • People who use sunscreen daily.
  • People who live in areas with little sunlight (northern hemisphere).
  • People diagnosed with osteoporosis.
  • People who suffer from malabsorption syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • People on seizure medication.

Other institutions, such as Harvard School of Public, has found these recommendations to be too conservative and has found that the evidence shows optimal intake to be, 800-1000 IU/per day.  In addition, individuals with darker skin, little exposure to sunlight or people living in the northern US during winter season may even need 2000 IU/per day, but before you increase your vitamin D intake to these higher levels have your doctor check your blood levels first.

Good Food Sources of Vitamin D:

There are only a few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, such as certain types of fish, but there are many fortified foods that can also provide you with the recommended amounts of vitamin D, such as dairy and breakfast cereals.  Here are some food choices with their respective vitamin D levels:

Cod liver oil (1360 IU’s per serving) Salmon (447 IU), mackerel (388 IU), tuna (154 IU), milk (115-124 IU), Orange Juice (100 IU), yogurt (80 IU), Sardines (46 IU), Egg (41 IU) Ready to eat Cereal ( 40 IU),


Since only few foods contain vitamin D you may have to supplement your diet with supplements. Here is what you should know:

There are two forms of vitamin D, vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol, is a plant-based form and vitamin D3 ,or cholecalciferol, is an animal-based form. If you are a strict vegan ergocalciferol, or vitamin D2, would be your best choice.  Everyone else has a choice between either one.  Some studies have found cholecalciferol to be more effective in raising vitamin D levels, and chemically it looks exactly like the vitamin D your body produces, but other studies have found them to be equally effective. Until more studies find more conclusive evidence, the choice is yours.



Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2010.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23, 2011.

American Academy of Dermatology. Position statement on vitamin D. November 14, 2009.

Harvard School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source: Vitamin D and Health. Accessed, April 11, 2011.






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