It’s dubbed the ‘sunshine vitamin’ but how do we get enough vitamin D when the sun isn’t shining or you avoid sunlight?
Sun exposure is required for the skin to produce vitamin D, as a normal balanced diet contains very little. This has brought about a growing concern for vitamin D deficiency in particular groups: older people or those living in institutional care with little exposure to sunlight, those with darker skin tone, and those who cover themselves because of cultural or religious reasons.
So how do you make sure you get enough? You don’t need to bake yourself in the sun and risk skin cancer to get a good dose of vitamin D.
How much you need depends on your skin colour. If you have fair skin, you may only need approximately 5 minutes of daily exposure in summer sun, whereas if you have darker skin, you may need up to 20 minutes each day.
More exposure is needed over winter to product vitamin D because UV levels are considerably less. But by getting enough sunlight hours over summer, you can build up your stores for winter.
It’s also important to remember that even when it’s cloudy, you are still exposed to UV light, so just because you can’t see the sun, doesn’t mean you’re not getting vitamin D!
Very few foods contain vitamin D: oily fish, eggs and some fortified milks and margarine. It’s a good idea to include these healthy foods in your diet, even if you don’t think you have concern for vitamin D deficiency.
Those over the age of 50 years need almost double the amount of vitamin D than those younger than them. So to make sure you get the recommended amount, try to get about 15 minutes of sensible sunshine each day and eat the healthy foods mentioned above.