Vitamin D is promoted as essential for bone health because it plays a pivotal role in adequate absorption of calcium and phosphorus to build bone. It also helps us avoid the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Recent studies show that vitamin D is critical to cardiovascular health. Too little increases your risk factors for heart disease including hypertension, diabetes, obesity and high triglycerides.
It may also be linked to the risk for autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, infections and depression.
Though more studies are needed to determine the extent of vitamin D's health benefits, the latest evidence strongly suggests it's important to get enough of it.
Recommendations for vitamin D for those younger than age 50 are 200 international units, 400 IU are recommended for those between ages 51 and 70 and 600 IU after age 70.
These amounts are based on the need for vitamin D to prevent bone disease. Some experts now suggest optimal intakes should be higher with at least 1,000 IU recommended for healthy adults.
Did you know that your body makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight? Living in Georgia allows us to enjoy many sunny days a year, but summer isn't here yet and exposure to the sun is limited.
Plus, we should be using sunscreen, further minimizing our contact with the sun. Critical ultraviolet B rays do not travel through glass, minimizing our skin's access to vitamin D when sitting in an indoor sunny spot.
Those with darker skin and the elderly make less vitamin D from sun exposure.
Individuals with cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease and certain liver and kidney diseases may be unable to absorb vitamin D regardless of how much is consumed.
Aim first to get vitamin D from your diet. Here are some ideas:
Drink an 8-ounce glass of fortified cow's milk, soy milk, rice milk or orange juice for 100 IU of vitamin D; not all dairy or soy products are fortified with vitamin D, so check the label.
Certain cereals and breads are also fortified with vitamin D and can provide as much as 100 IU per serving.
Try fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, and smaller amounts can be found in egg yolks. Though vitamin D is found in some plant foods, it's not absorbed well.
Supplements can help you meet the recommended level of vitamin D of 800 to 1,000 IU if the sun is not a reliable source or your diet lacks the better sources of this vitamin.
Be particularly vigilant of your intake if you're older than 50.
Keep in mind the recommended daily intake according to your age and avoid taking more than 2,000 IU; excess amounts of this fat-soluble vitamin may be toxic. If you take supplements, count the total amount of vitamin D from all supplement sources.
If you are concerned about your vitamin D intake, a doctor can check with a blood test.
But with supplements, keep in mind they aren't a substitute for a balanced diet and shouldn't be the first line of defense.
Take inventory of your own diet and make the best choices to ensure you are getting adequate vitamin D for strong bones and a strong heart.
Adapted from: Colorado State University Extension
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.