Some people have a spirit animal or guide they feel a deep connection to like an owl or bear or dolphin. I have a spirit vitamin—vitamin D. This may sound odd, but I’m a dietitian, after all, and vitamins (a.k.a. micronutrients) are my expertise.
Dietitians spend years studying biochemistry in depth, learning how the dietary intake of various vitamins and minerals affect the human body. And I’ll confirm that it’s 100% true that you are what you eat, but there’s so much more to that concept. What you eat can actually prevent disease, help you function optimally, and even heal and restore the body. And a lot of it can be attributed to the micronutrient content in food.
Arguably, one of the most powerful micronutrients, and one that’s especially worth mentioning now during this global pandemic, is vitamin D.
Vitamin D has always been an extraordinary vitamin. Unlike any other, it can be synthesized in the skin when exposed to sunlight and it functions more like a hormone. It’s essential for bone health, immunity, and healthy endocrine and cardiovascular systems. And inadequate vitamin D levels have even been associated with an increased risk for developing colorectal and breast cancer.
As more research is being conducted, we’re learning that vitamin D may even decrease the severity of certain autoimmune diseases, diabetes, eczema, cognitive deterioration, and the progression of neurodegenerative disease.
And now, as of September 2020, the latest research on vitamin D is nothing short of astounding!
A recent retrospective, observational study conducted from March-June 2020, analyzing over 190,000 patients from all 50 states in the U.S. considering race, ethnicity, sex, and age, found a statistically significant association between lower COVID19-positive rates and higher levels of circulating vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin) in the blood. In other words, of the 190,000+ COVID19-positive patients tested, those who had clinically low levels of vitamin D had a 54% higher positivity rate of COVID19. In the same population group, as blood levels of vitamin D increased, COVID19-positivity decreased.
Although this type of study comes with its limitations, this is groundbreaking information and can perhaps offer us another tool to put in our toolbox for fortifying our health during this unprecedented public health crisis and during this cold and flu season. But, it’s important to note that adequate vitamin D levels in the blood have not been shown to prevent COVID19. So far, we are only learning about the outcomes when vitamin D in the blood is low.
Since we’re observing, yet again, another way vitamin D plays an important role in our health, it’s essential that we focus our attention especially during the winter months, on eating a diet rich in vitamin D and/or supplementing as needed.
Here is a list of some of the most accessible and bioavailable forms of vitamin D-rich whole foods.
Salmon – 4 ounces provides about 511 IU of vitamin D3.
Sardines – 3.2 ounces provides about 175 IU of vitamin D3.
Cow’s milk – 4 ounces provides about 62 IU of vitamin D3.
Shiitake mushrooms – ½ cup provides about 20 IU of vitamin D2.
General vitamin D recommendations for healthy adults, whether in food or supplementation, are anywhere from 400-2,000 IU daily. Adults over 50 years old need to shoot for 2,000 IU daily due to a reduced capacity to synthesize vitamin D in the skin. Pediatric recommendations for infants, children, and adolescents range from 400-1,000 IU daily. Always refer to your primary care provider for individualized recommendations.
Also, it’s important to consider which form of vitamin D you’re consuming, especially when supplementing. Vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 are both effective at raising blood levels of vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin) concentrations although some studies have shown that vitamin D3 is more efficacious in maintaining vitamin D levels in the blood. Lastly, when it comes to supplements, I recommend vitamin D in liquid form because it’s often suspended in a fat-soluble medium like coconut or olive oil which helps with absorption. Most liquid vitamin D also comes in higher doses than in capsule form which typically lasts longer and can be more cost effective.
For a boost of vitamin D and other healthy nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12, I love baked salmon, and this is one of my all-time favorite recipes. Salmon en Papillote with Seasonal Vegetable Ribbons. This and other nutrient-dense and flavorful recipes can be found in my new book, The Nutritionist’s Kitchen.