Demystifying Vitamin D: Understanding Its Vital Role in Our Well-being
We have all heard of vitamin D. It pops up in so many different areas of communication from national news, right through to leisure-reading in monthly magazines and even in online blogs like this one. Vitamin D is really important for our welfare, so much so that the NHS recommends that we take a vitamin D supplement daily.* So what exactly is it and what does it do?
Vitamin D is essential to the human body and is produced when we expose our skin to the sun (vitamin D3) and through eating certain foods such as fortified cereals, mushrooms and supplements (vitamin D2).
More detail on how Vitamin D helps to keep you well... It plays an essential role in various areas concerning the healthy maintenance of our body. It is a major player in maintaining healthy bones and teeth and helps to protect against a range of diseases and conditions such as type 1 diabetes.
If we aren’t getting enough vitamin D (a deficiency), symptoms can include fatigue, bone pain, low mood, impaired healing, hair loss and muscle pain and in more severe cases it can lead to cardiovascular and autoimmune problems, neurological diseases, infections and pregnancy complications.
How does vitamin D do its job?
Vitamin D helps to keep our bones healthy as it is involved in the regulation of calcium and the maintenance of phosphorus levels in our blood. Vitamin D stimulates the intestines to absorb calcium and then reclaim calcium the kidneys would otherwise get rid of. This is how it helps our bones to stay strong and prevent any related issues with the skeletal or muscular function.
The sunshine vitamin
Despite our best-efforts, vitamin D deficiency may still occur even though we try our best to defy it. For example:- working from a sunny desk position actually makes little difference to our vitamin D levels (unless it’s outside!) as glass acts as a filter for UVB radiation preventing us from absorbing the sunlight that we need.
If you’re lucky enough to make it outside, it is of course extremely important to wear SPF sunscreen. Always make sure to reapply sun-factor regularly throughout the day particularly after swimming. Try to stay out of the sun when it is at its peak – normally between 10am – 3pm.
Make a note of when you open a new bottle of sun factor and never use past the sell by date as old, left over bottles may not be as effective as they need to be. Make sure that children are always well protected – keep hats on heads and invest in swim clothing that has SPF-rated fabric. Do not rely on this completely – use sunscreen as well.
Always make sure to stay well hydrated at all times when in the heat. Remember that wind and water can make it seem cooler than it is and it is very easy to burn. Keep an eye on the time and do not spend too long out in the direct sunshine.
Maintaining our vitamin D levels through sunlight can be a little tricky here in the UK, where 1 in 5 UK adults actually have a deficiency. But we are able to take full control of our diet and ensure we are meeting our vitamin requirements.
Fatty and oily fish: salmon, mackerel and tuna, and egg yolks, cheese, mushrooms, milk and cereals are all excellent examples of food sources. In particular milk and cereals are often fortified with vitamin D – check the label on your product to see what additional nutrition it is offering.
A mushroom omelette for breakfast or porridge made with fortified milk and a sprinkling of blueberries on top would be a great choice for breakfast. Supplement these by including some fruit or veg at snack-time and you’re off to a great start for the day!
What else is on the menu? We’ve included a couple of delicious ideas for vitamin D rich meals below. They're great dishes to add to your outdoor family-filled, fun-fuelled BBQ - give them a try!
Spaghetti with sardines:
This is a super-quick store cupboard super-healthy supper.
- 400g spaghetti
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves crushed
- Pinch chilli flakes
- 227g can chopped tomatoes
- 4 x cans skinless and boneless sardines in tomato sauce
- 100g pitted black olives roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp capers drained
- Small handful chopped parsley
Step 1. Cook spaghetti as per packet instructions. Make sauce by heating oil and cook the garlic for 1 min. Add chilli flakes, tomatoes and sardines, breaking up roughly. Heat 2-3 mins then add olives, capers and most of the parsley. Mix well.
Step 2. Drain paste reserving 2 tbsp of water. Add the paste to the sauce and mix well adding the reserved water if the sauce is thick. Divide between 4 bowls and sprinkle over the remaining parsley.
Tip: Using skinless, boneless fish makes a sustainable alternative to anchovies + they are also cheaper and a great source of omega-3.
Bacon and brie omelette wedges with summer salad:
Spanish-style frittatas, which are traditionally served in thick slices with crunchy salad.
- 2tbsp olive oil
- 200g smoked lardons
- 6 organic eggs lightly beaten
- Small bunch of chives – snipped
- 100g brie, sliced
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 cucumber, halved, deseeded and sliced on the diagonal
- 200g radishes – quartered
Turn on the grill and heat 1 tsp oil in a small pan and fry until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
Heat 2 tsp oil in a non stick pan. Mix together the eggs, lardons, chives and some black pepper. Pour into the frying pan and cook over a low heat until semi-set and then lay the brie on top. Grill until set and golden. Remove from the pan and slice into wedges.
Mix the remaining oil, vinegar and mustard and seasoning in a bowl. Toss in the cucumber and radishes and serve alongside the omelette wedges.
If in doubt - speak to your GP!
Although it’s important to ensure we’re getting enough vitamin D, it’s important we don’t over-consume. Too much vitamin D can lead to serious health problems which is why you should try to get as much of your Vitamin D from natural sources. If you decide to take a supplement, opt for the best one you can afford, taking guidance from a reputable health store.
With any health worries that niggle you, it is really important to seek out professional advice – do not struggle on if you have concerns. A deficiency in vitamin D might not be obvious to you – if you feel that you are meeting your goals, diet and exercise-wise, but still feel out of sorts then get yourself booked in to see your GP and seek medical advice.
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