Know the importance of vitamin D

Sunflowers (Photo courtesy of Amberlyn Brown.)

As the days get shorter during the winter months, vitamin D becomes more important to supplement in our diets. Vitamin D is primarily produced by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. However, African-Americans have more melanin in their skin, resulting in the reduction of the body’s ability to make the vitamin from sun exposure.

Why is vitamin D important?

Vitamin D is a nutrient you need for good health. It helps your body absorb calcium, one of the main building blocks for strong bones. Together with calcium, vitamin D helps protect you from developing osteoporosis, a disease that thins and weakens the bones and makes them more likely to break. Your body needs vitamin D for other functions too. Your muscles need it to move, and your nerves need it to carry messages between your brain and your body. Your immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses.

What foods contain vitamin D?

Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the diets of people in the United States. Check the Nutrition Facts label for the amount of vitamin D in a food or beverage.

  • Milk is fortified with vitamin D per cup. Many plant-based alternatives (soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk) are fortified. Foods made from milk, like cheese and ice cream, are usually not fortified.
  • Many breakfast cereals and some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and other food products are fortified.
  • Fatty fish (like trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oils are among the best natural sources of vitamin D.
  • Beef liver, egg yoks, and cheese have small amounts of vitamin D.
  • Mushrooms provide a little vitamin D. Some mushrooms have been exposed to ultraviolet light to increase their vitamin D content.