SEVEN WAYS TO GET YOUR
VITAMIN D Are you getting enough?
Despite its label as the sunshine vitamin, you could be vitamin D deficient even in summer. But does it matter? Well, yes, as its health benefits may extend much further than healthy bones, teeth and muscles. ‘In the past 20 years, there’s been more and more reports that vitamin D is important to many aspects of our health,’ explains Professor Adrian Martineau, specialist in respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London.
But one in five adults have low vitamin D levels, and a 2014 study found hospital admissions attributed to childhood rickets were the highest in England in five decades. While some groups, including pregnant women and the elderly, are more at risk of deficiency, for many of us it’s due to our indoor lifestyles and where the UK is in relation to the equator (where the sun is strongest). Here’s how to safely increase your levels…
WHEN THE SUN’S OUT
The general guidance for the UK is to spend 10-20 minutes outdoors several times a week, with arms and face uncovered and without sunscreen, between April to September. This is enough time to get the benefits before ultraviolet rays trigger sunburn, cancer or skin ageing. This varies depending on the colour of your skin (darker skins need more exposure), the time of day (the sun is strongest between 11am-3pm) and how much skin you expose.
Stepping outside isn’t enough either, as the way the sun’s rays hit the body gets technical. ‘Vertical body areas, such as legs and arms, receive about 30-60% of the amount of rays that hit horizontal areas, like shoulders and the head,’ explains María Antonia Serrano, a scientist at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, adding that ditching tights will have less of an effect than uncovering shoulders.
CHEW ON IT
You should also top up your vitamin D levels with food. ‘Oily fish, egg yolks, beef liver and fortified milk are all rich in it, but they’re not enough,’ explains Rhiannon Lambert, a Harley Street nutritionist. ‘However, eating a portion of salmon twice a week can help.’
The UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends everyone should aim to get 10mcg
(or 400IUS, which stands for International Units and is the measurement you’re looking for on labels) a day. In spring and summer, many people get that by following sun exposure guidelines, but in winter we can’t make vitamin D in our skin because the sun isn’t strong enough, and it’s hard to get what you need from diet alone. It’s suggested that from October to April, everyone should consider a daily 10mcg supplement.