In the Northwest, we face an especially dark (and usually damp) winter. From November through March the days are short and the sky is gray. Even if you are one who appreciates this season, it is hard not to feel the emotional and physical effects of the darkness. Vitamin D, or the lack of it, can be a main cause for the heaviness of body and mind that can plague us at this time of year. In addition to mood lifting benefits, it is also an essential nutrient for bone health and prevention of chronic disease. Vitamin D deficiency is an often overlooked condition and it’s estimated that at least 40% of the population has lower levels than they should, especially in the Northwest.
Most of the vitamin D our body needs we can get from moderate sun exposure. Ultraviolet B rays help catalyze a reaction that synthesizes it from cholesterol already present in our skin (cool, right?!). This is actually the most usable form of the vitamin for our bodies (compared to food sources) but here in Seattle it is clearly not a reliable option year round. So how do we make up for this lack of an essential nutrient that isn’t readily available to us for almost half the year?
Taking a supplement is a great option (as recommended by your doctor or nutritionist), but many foods will provide an extra boost as well. Salmon (wild, not farm-raised!) is an especially good choice as one serving provides about 500 IU (most of us in the northern climes may need 2000 IU or more in the winter.) Other food sources that provide much less of the recommended daily intake per serving but are still worth mixing in to your winter routine are other fish such as sole or flounder, eggs and mushrooms (shitake). Be sure to look for fortified versions of products you buy regularly like milk (dairy and non-dairy) or tofu to make up for days when whole foods sources aren’t an option. Hopefully the food industry will use vitamin D3, as the traditional use of D2 still requires sunlight for conversion.
Unless you eat salmon (or take a tablespoon of cod liver oil) daily, it can be difficult to meet your body’s Vitamin D requirements (especially if you are already deficient) with food sources alone. Check in with your doctor or nutritionist regarding healthy supplementation this winter and start incorporating a few more salmon dinners and mushroom omelet breakfasts into your routine to power you through the next few months. You’ll be happy, healthy and ready to embrace the sun when it finally does come back!
By Flannery, Bastyr student intern
Kris Gunnars, BSc. “Vitamin D 101 – A Detailed Beginner’s Guide.” Authority Nutrition. N.p., 18 Aug. 2016. Web. 08 Oct. 2016