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 today I’m cooking up one of my favorite weekend brunch recipes using eggs, one of the sources of vitamin.
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. I suggest checking the labels of some of the 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.
Why is it 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 foods that contain this nutrient 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.
Ok, admittedly vitamin D is more abundant in other foods, but one egg yolk does contain 15 mcg. Also, 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, consider eating salmon or another fatty fish. I suggest cooking this recipe and use salmon as the fish, as just 3.5 oz or 100 grams will give you just over 500 IU of this nutrient.
Creamy Polenta with Spinach and Poached Egg
Creamy polenta pairs well with spinach and a poached egg in an easy brunch or light lunch entree
- 1 cup polenta
- 2 ½ cups water
- 2 ½ cups vegetable broth
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
- 2 T Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup fresh basil
- 1 T olive oil
- 1½ pounds spinach
- ½ medium red onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp salt, separated
- 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 T Red wine vinegar
- 1 T white vinegar
- 4 eggs
- Step 1 Place water, vegetable broth and polenta in a large saucepan and heat to a slow boil. Once the water begins to boil, reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid. Stir often with a whisk to remove any lumps while it cooks. The polenta is done when the water has been absorbed, and it is creamy and soft, about 40-45 minutes. Stir in the Greek yogurt, parmesan cheese, 1/2 tsp salt and basil. Cover and set aside until ready to serve.
- Step 2 When the polenta is almost done, heat olive oil in pan over medium high heat. Add diced red onion and sauté for 5 minutes or until softened. Next, add garlic and cook for an additional 60 seconds. Add the spinach, 1/2 tsp salt and crushed red pepper to the pan. Cook 3-5 minutes or until the leaves wilt.
- Step 3 At the same time, you start the spinach bring a wide sauce pan with at least 3 cups of water and the 1 T of white vinegar to a boil. Crack the eggs into individual cups. When the water begins to boil, use a spoon to gently swirl the water in clockwise direction and gently drop each egg into the moving water. Cook the eggs for 4-5 minutes and then remove from the water with a slotted spoon. The cooked eggs should have a soft center.
- Step 4 Place 1 cup of polenta in each bowl, top with a half cup of spinach and finish off with poached egg.
Check your polenta cooking directions before following my instructions. There are some fast cooking varieties out there that cook up in less than 10 minutes. If you use one of those that’s fine, just reduce the cooking time.
Substitute any green for the spinach. But if you use a green such as kale, chard or mustard greens, they may need a bit more time to cook. If that’s the case, add a bit of water after sautéing for a few minutes and cook until the leaves are tender.
**Nutritional Facts were calculated using recipe input in VeryWellFit.
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