Did you know that your body actually makes vitamin D from the sun? Exposure to the sun in minimal amounts triggers a process in the skin that creates vitamin D in the body. That’s why it is often called the sunshine vitamin!! Another source is food. However, it’s not found in a lot of plant-based food, but there are ways you can cook and eat vegetarian foods with vitamin D and today I’m sharing with you some of my favorites.
The basics of vitamin D
Foods containing this nutrient include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel or tuna), egg yolks, cheese, and other animal products. For a vegetarian or vegan this nutrient may be a problem as you may not be eating many foods that naturally contain it.
In the US, vitamin D recently was designated a nutrient of concern because so many people are not getting enough. This concern and the fact that vitamin D appears naturally in few foods, many products such as milk, soy milk, cereals and orange juice are now fortified with this vitamin.
Be sure to check the labels of some of the plant-based dairy products you purchase to see if it has been fortified. In the recent change to the nutrient labels required by the FDA, this nutrient must have the information included.
The sun and vitamin D
The BEST source of vitamin D for our body, is the sun!! Our skin is able to absorb the UV rays from the sun and then make vitamin D in the subcutaneous tissue of the skin and then provide it to the rest of the body to use. So when the sun is shining get yourself out there and soak it up, though you only need about 20 minutes a day for the body to make an adequate amount of vitamin D.
In times of prolonged clouds or in the winter months when it’s more difficult to expose yourself to the sun, be sure to supplement with foods containing vitamin D. It’s possible you may even need a supplement, though you should talk to your doctor before starting to take supplements.
Why is vitamin D important?
Vitamin D has an important relationship with calcium. In the intestine it increases absorption of calcium and phosphorous in the foods we eat. Then later in the kidneys, it increases the reabsorption of calcium and phosphorous rather than excreting these nutrients as waste. So for certain vitamin D is linked to the health of our bones.
Research in the last 5-10 years on this nutrient have revealed that it may have many other functions in the body including the ability to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, some cancers and hypertension. In addition, there appears to be a relationship between vitamin D and our natural immunity.
Some recent studies indicate the variety of functions that vitamin D may have. Of course, in all of these studies, the associations are preliminary and require further research to further confirm these positive associations.
- Higher levels of vitamin D in the blood lead to improved exercise ability.
- Increased levels of vitamin D correlate to a decreased risk of breast cancer.
- Higher levels of vitamin d in the blood linked to lower instances of colon and rectal cancers.
How much do you need?
In 2010, as the importance of this nutrient began to emerge, a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) was set for vitamin D, giving us a better idea of how much of this nutrient we need to consume in our diet. The general recommendation for this nutrient is around 10-20 mcg per day depending on age. Though some research indicates that a higher level of 25 -100 mcg is more adequate to keep the level of vitamin D in the blood where it needs to be.
As we age the amount of vitamin D absorbed by the intestines decreases. In addition, older adults are likely to have less sun exposure and a low dietary intake of foods with vitamin D. The danger for older adults who do not get adequate vitamin D intake is that a deficiency causes osteomalacia which may lead to brittle bones and more frequent broken bones. These numbers assume a minimum amount of sun exposure.
Is there such a thing as too much vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. The body stores any excess amounts of this nutrient in the fat cells. Toxicity is not likely with natural foods and or sun exposure. Toxicity mainly occurs through supplementation or overconsumption of fortified foods. It is important that you first speak with a doctor or nutritionist before beginning supplementation. You also want to make sure that you do not exceed the upper limit for this nutrient which is 4,000 IUs.
Who is at risk of a deficiency?
Of course, if you are not eating vegetarian foods with vitamin d naturally or through fortification you are at risk for a deficiency. A deficiency can lead to issues with the formation of bones in growing children or lead to more brittle bones in older adults.
But more importantly, people who live in areas of the world where there isn’t a lot of sunlight or there are periods of time that you aren’t able to spend extended amount of time in the sun with your skin exposed, may have a deficiency.
This nutrient may also be a problem for those who cover themselves with long-sleeves and long- pants and do not expose their skin to the sun. And it is more of an issue for people with darker skin as it is more difficult for the body to absorb the sun and generate the nutrient.
If you think this nutrient may be an issue for you, I recommend getting your blood levels tested by your doctor and discuss supplementation with them. Because toxicity can occur with supplementation and fortified products you want to make sure you aren’t taking too much of a supplement or eating too much of these fortified foods.
The easiest vegetarian foods with vitamin D to prepare are eggs and fortified dairy products.
Ok, admittedly vitamin D is more abundant in other foods, but one egg yolk does contain 15 mcg. Also, since it is now a practice to feed chickens with vitamin D enriched feed. Meaning if your eggs are from these chickens, they will contain more of this nutrient. I looked up one brand of eggs, I sometimes purchased in the US and they claim their eggs have 6x the amount of vitamin D as regular eggs. Just check the label of your eggs to see how much they contain.
If you want a food that will give you more bang for your buck and consume a more flexible diet that includes fish occasionally , consider eating salmon or another fatty fish. I suggest cooking salmon which provides over 500 IU of vitamin D for a 3.5 oz or 100 grams serving. Here’s a recipe for Chili Lime Salmon with Mango Avocado Salsa that is quick and easy to prepare!
My favorite recipes using vegetarian foods with vitamin D
Did you try out any of these recipes? Which ones? Did you like it? If you have any comments on these recipes or other content you would like to see, please comment here on the blog or send me a message via any social media or the contact me page. Also, be sure to tag @cookeatlivelove in your photos so I can see your creations!