Finally - the moment we have all been waiting for: Spring! It’s right around the corner. That means that the days are getting longer, the sun is setting later, and we can feel the first tinges of warmth on our skin! After a winter of snowstorms and puffy coats, it’s time to break out the sunglasses and soak up sunlight.
With the sun making its way out of what feels like its hibernation, it feels appropriate for us to highlight some of the major benefits of catching rays. While we all may know the benefit of sunlight being that fun, happy feeling and the ability to take a walk after work - it is also our main source of vitamin D!
So, What is Vitamin D?
While most vitamins can only be found in our food, Vitamin D is the only essential vitamin that comes from the sun and can be synthesized in our skin. When sunlight hits the skin, it provides the energy needed for cholesterol to turn into Vitamin D - pretty cool, huh?
That is why it’s so important to catch some rays. In fact, for most people, 30 minutes in direct sunlight can give us 20,000-50,000 IU of Vitamin D (1). For reference, the Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) of vitamin D is 600 IU/day for men and women between the ages of 1-70 (2). So, that means that getting just a bit of sunlight every day is enough to keep your Vitamin D levels in check!
You may be asking yourself - okay that sounds pretty cool but why do we need Vitamin D anyways? Let’s dive in a little more.
Benefits of Vitamin D and Sunlight
1. Boosts the Immune System
Vitamin D (and therefore sunlight) can help strengthen your immune system by regulating the activity of your immune cells. When vitamin D is made in the body, it attaches to immune cells, and causes them to produce peptides with antiviral properties. These peptides ward off foreign pathogens that can make you sick.
Think about it - this is why we see more of the flu and cold in the winter! Without the sun helping us produce Vitamin D, our immune systems are not quite as strong (3).
2. Supports Bone Health
We’ve all heard about the magic duo of Vitamin D and calcium, right? Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which is a key nutrient in keeping your bones strong (4). A few groups of people who are at a higher risk of experiencing bone demineralization are women, older adults, and believe it or not, those struggling with an eating disorder. For those individuals, the sun is just what the doctor (and the dietitian) ordered!
3. Improves Mental Health
If you’re someone who experiences the winter blues, you are not alone! As the days get shorter and shorter in the winter and we see less sunlight, many people begin to feel a little down. This could be a result of Vitamin D deficiency since we simply are not seeing the sun as much!
Having enough vitamin D has been shown to reduce negative emotions. In fact, one study has shown that individuals with major depressive disorder have seen an improvement in symptoms with increased amounts of sunlight or vitamin D supplementation (5).
What About in the Winter?
So glad you asked. For those of you in Massachusetts and the New England area, we don’t have to tell you that the sun can be scarce in the winter months. So, it’s important to pay attention to other ways to get Vitamin D.
When it comes to getting vitamin D from food, things like salmon, cod, tuna, and other fatty fish are a great source of the nutrient. In addition, eggs, milk, and cheese contain it as well. For our vegans out there - don’t worry; cereals and orange juice are fortified with vitamin D.
Here's a tip - Vitamin D is what we call a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that it is best absorbed when consumed with a meal or snack that contains fat. Think of fat-containing foods as like a "vehicle" for vitamin D!
Of course, you can always ask your dietitian or physician about supplementation if you are interested. Especially if you are struggling with an eating disorder, you may be at risk for nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin D.
How Nourishrx Can Help
In order to ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients that you need, our dietitians are here to help. If you are a resident of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia, California, Nevada or Colorado, you are eligible for our 1:1 nutrition counseling.
Interested in learning how to incorporate more vitamin D into your diet from a gentle nutrition lens? Our Flexible Meal Planning Course may be just what you're looking for!
NourishRX is also excited to offer personalized nutrient testing for vitamin D and beyond. This service is available to all. Reach out to us to learn more!