On this, the darkest day of the year, I thought it would be fitting to share the best ways to get the sunshine vitamin – vitamin D – in winter when there's not much sun to be had. Even as I sit mid-day in Southern California, the sun is low and weak, not a great generator for vitamin D in winter. So in order to stay healthy through cold and flu season my family and I make sure to supplement with non-solar sources.
Until recently, vitamin D has been an under-appreciated nutrient, but in the last several years, research as well as empirical evidence has been showing that vitamin D is essential for immune health, hormone function, healthy bones and teeth, and even cancer prevention. And while it is believed that the human body synthesizes vitamin D best through regular sun exposure, even with your best efforts it is difficult to get enough D-generating sunshine during the winter months in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
You can read more about vitamin D, it's health benefits, and sunshine here. Aside from moving to the tropics, here's…
5 ways to get your daily dose of vitamin D in winter…
Cod liver oil (CLO)
Unlike regular fish oil, cod liver oil is naturally rich in vitamins A and D. When you choose a minimally processed cod liver oil, you get the benefit of these nutrients as nature designed them. This means they're more bioavailable and easier for your body to use.
Consequently, the daily dosage is much lower than if you were supplementing with synthetic vitamin D.
Most commercial cod liver oil (including well-respected brands like Nordic Naturals and Carlson) have been over-processed and have synthetic vitamins D and A added back in the improper proportions.
In light of this, I recommend extra virgin cod liver oil. Unfortunately, this supplement is not currently available in health food stores, but you can find it here.
For those who are a little more sensitive to the fishy taste of CLO, you can get extra virgin cod liver oil capsules here.
Lard from healthy foraging pigs
This may come as a surprise: After cod liver oil, lard is the second best source of vitamin D.
The key is getting lard from pigs that haven't been factory raised, have spent time outdoors in sunshine, and have eaten a healthy diet. Good quality bacon and bacon grease is a great gateway into the wonderful world of lard. And when you're ready to branch out, try this ahhh-maz-ing recipe for carnitas.
6 oysters contain an estimated 270IU of vitamin D, but keep in mind that your body is able to use nutrients from food with far more ease than from supplements. And oysters are oh-so-good!
You know those tiny orange things you get with sushi that have a salty flavor that bursts in your mouth? Packed with D. One recent study showed a single tablespoon of roe to contain 17,000IU of vitamin D!
Vitamin D3 supplement
While it is optimal for you and your family to get vitamin D through food based sources, in particular cod liver oil and lard, there are instances when my patients or I use a vitamin D3 supplement – such as a rare sensitivity to CLO, a super picky child who can't swallow capsules, or in the case of an oncoming cold or flu.
The Vitamin D Council and other experts recommend an average of 35IU per pound of body weight per day for those with normal levels and states of health. In the case that one is getting a cold or flu, it is suggested to take a super-high dosage for no more than 3 days. This dose is 900IU per pound. Remember, it is recommended to take this for a short period only.
*Be sure to check with your health practitioner before trying this or any other new health regimen. Choose a vitamin D3 that delivers 2000IU per drop for adults or 400IU per drop for infants and small children.
You can find vitamin D here. You can read more about adequate levels of vitamin D and supplementation here.
How NOT to get vitamin D?
Multi-vitamins – Most aren't bioavailable or even the right type of vitamin D, as you need vitamin D3 rather than vitamin D2. And almost none have adequate vitamin D.
Breakfast cereal – There are many reasons to skip the cereal. But when it comes to vitamin D, for the same reasons as multi-vitamins it's a waste of time, money, and a dirty bowl.
Fortified milk (or orange juice) – The milk and juice industries have most Americans tricked into thinking their drinks have them covered. They don't. See the same reasons above.
Cod liver oil that does not have vitamins A and D in the correct proportion – Spend the extra effort on sourcing minimally processed cod liver oil.
Tanning beds – I have some conflicting opinions about this one because I think that individuals with poor gut absorption or Seasonal Affective Disorder can benefit from making vitamin D in the winter months with tanning beds that have UVB rays.
At the moment, however, I must suggest that you use caution: nature did not intend for humans to sit in an electrically charged box. I think the risks of x-ray and EMF (electromagnetic fields) in tanning beds outweigh the benefits.
Wishing you a warm, bright, and healthy winter!
image credit: sapienssolutions