Short, cold and dreary winter days are a Canadian reality. Although the lack of sunshine may different people in different ways, there is one important nutritional reality that we must all be aware of.
In the winter months, approximate 40% of Canadians will have inadequate bodily levels of vitamin D. This is partially due to the fact that vitamin D is the “sunshine vitamin” that our skin creates when it comes in contact with the strong summer sun. (Statistics provided by Health & Stats Canada)
Unfortunately, the sun rays are too weak in the Canadian winter to allow our bodies to create vitamin D, and this partly explains why you are more likely to have lower vitamin D levels in your body in the winter as compared to the summer.
Why does it matter? Vitamin D levels in our bodies are strongly linked with the health of our bones, and are becoming increasingly linked with other health benefits.
This makes it very important for us to cook up a little sunshine in the kitchen this winter.
And it’s even more important for those of you over the age of 50, as you have increased vitamin D requirements and are at higher risk of bone related injuries.
How do we do this? Incorporate more vitamin D rich foods into our diets of course! The unfortunate reality, however, is that vitamin D is actually only found in a very limited number of foods, so if you are missing these foods in your diet you will very likely have an insufficient intake of vitamin D.
Here are 6 ways you can help fix this problem for you and your family:
- Have a ½ cup ( 125 ml) of vitamin D fortified orange juice with breakfast each day: Take advantage of the fact that vitamin D fortified orange juice is now on the market and use this beverage to boost your vitamin D intake on a cold winter morning.
- Get cracking with whole eggs: I know that using egg whites for omelettes and other recipes has become quite a trend, but I am here to tell you not to fear cooking with whole eggs. The egg yolk contains a host of important nutrients, not least of which is vitamin D.
- Bring a cup of vitamin D fortified yogurt to work or school each day: Yogurt cups are frequently utilized as healthy snacks for kids and adults alike, so make a point to pack one each day for both yourself and your children.
- Get at least 1 cup of cow’s milk or fortified soy milk in a day: Cow’s milk and many common soy milk varieties are fortified with vitamin D and will be important to help you reach your daily requirement. Whether you have a cup with a snack or use it in cereal or oatmeal, make sure you make a point of getting it in this winter.
- Get fishy at least twice a week: There are a number of benefits associated with fish consumption and one of the most important is the rich vitamin D content. I don’t care how you get it in whether it is a fish stew, a canned fish sandwich or a delicately grilled filet. Make sure you have at least 6 oz of fish a week and stick mostly to salmon, mackerel, trout, snapper, tuna and sardines.
- Spread margarine on your toast and potatoes: Margarine is one of the few sources of vitamin D in our food system and it goes great spread on toast, potatoes or wherever else you might like it on. I recommend purchasing Becel Pro Active or PC Blue Menu Plant Sterol margarine, as these varieties have additional cholesterol lowering benefits.
I appreciate that not everyone reading today’s article will always be able to follow the steps that I have outlined above. Try your best to incorporate most of the steps, most of the time, but if you feel like these objectives will be a struggle for you, consider vitamin D supplementation of 400 IU a day to help out. In fact, Health Canada recommends that, in addition to healthy eating, all Canadians over age 50 should supplement 400 IU of vitamin D a day. Do not, however, go above these recommendations as excess vitamin D supplementation offers no benefits and could be detrimental to your health.
Andy De Santis RD MPH
Andy is a Toronto-based private practice dietitian with a master’s degree in public health nutrition. He is also a nutrition writer and blogger. You can learn more about him and his services at AndyTheRD.com.