Vitamin D is of course associated with the sun, but with estimates of around 70 percent of the population being deficient, we’re apparently not getting the exposure we require. Now this is an oversimplification of the matter as vitamin D comes in two basic forms: D2 and D3. D2 is present in vegetables and various supplements and D3 is mainly formed from our skin’s exposure to the sun, but is also present in a variety of animal products, like fatty fish and their oils, beef liver, egg yolks, and fortified dairy and grain products. The fortified products, however, have marginal levels for the most part, and are not well regulated. So what’s a vegan, particularly a vegan in non-tropical climates, to do? Well, in this fifth video in my nutrient series with nutrition powerhouse Dr. Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org, we’ll tackled the vitamin D debacle.
To hear the entirety of Dr Greger's answer, check out the video above. But here are some select nuggets:
“Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin. It’s actually not a vitamin but a hormone…our skin makes when it’s exposed to sunlight. We evolved running around, you know, naked in equatorial Africa getting baked in the sun all day. We just weren’t meant to live at such latitudes where during the winter months, up in Boston for example [where] … no matter how much you sunbathe naked on the commons, you are not going to make enough vitamin D.
“Particularly during the winter months or anytime during the year for people not getting enough mid-day sun, and for white enough people at low enough latitudes … 5 minutes forearms and face can be enough mid-day sun. But, particularly at higher latitudes with darker skin, people that are older, or those that have jobs and they’re inside all day, no matter how sunny it is outside, should get their vitamin D from vitamin D supplements. So, I recommend for people not getting enough mid-day sun to take 2,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D a day.”
I hope you enjoyed hearing from Dr. Greger on this matter. Just to note, vitamin D is essential for bone health as it helps calcium get from our intestines to our bones. It also helps with muscle function and is associated with lower risks of breast and colon cancer. Vitamin D may also play a role in mood stabilization and fighting depression.
As Dr. Greger said, depending on where your live, and even your body’s individual absorption issues, you may not be getting adequate vitamin D, regardless of your diet. We were intended to get our d from the sun but as most of us are no longer running around naked in the tropical sun, feeling the rays lap or skin with their warm embrace…okay I got a little of track there… [tweet about the nakedness]
But yes, there are areas of the world where sun-based vitamin D is simply not available for long stretches of time. Dietarily, there now exist UV-exposed mushrooms that contain vitamin D. mushrooms naturally produce and store the vitamin when exposed to sunlight, but don’t tend to grow in sunlight, so farmers have taken to briefly exposing them to UV light after harvest. This can also be accomplished by leaving them in the sun, however then they shrivel up and look kind of shady…
So, if you want to supplement, how do you ensure the sources are vegan? Well, D2 is always vegan, as it’s a plant-based source, but D3, which is commonly used in supplement and vitamin D fortified grains, juices, and other products, comes from lanolin, which is derived from sheep’s wool. [tweet this]
now if you’re thinking “what’s the big deal? it’s not like sheep are dying for their wool,” please see my video on the ethics of wool. Until recently, there were no vegan vitamin D3 supplements. However, now there are several brands of vegan D3 on the market, derived from lichen. [tweet about getting your D ethically!]
Now personally, I don’t eat any fortified foods so when I enter my food on Cronometer, my vitamin D always looks very sad. But, I am sure to expose myself to sunlight regularly and, when living in the less friendly climates, I will supplement with vegan options.
A word of caution: You can take too many vitamin D supplements, resulting in high blood calcium levels, which can lead to nausea, constipation, confusion, abnormal heart rhythm, and even kidney stones. So please stay within doctor-recommended doses.
To track your own vitamin d intake, check out Cronometer. You can enter your meals and activity to make sure you’re right where you want to be. You can even go and create your own food, select supplement and enter the data for the supplement you take. Then, in your day’s nutrition report, you have the option of showing or hiding your supplements to see where your diet alone measures up. (Watch the video above for visuals on how to do this.)
It's pretty freakin’ cool, right? So cool that they’re actually sponsoring this video post to get this information out. And the best part? it’s totally free to use these services . Be sure to use this link to make your free profile so they know that Bite Size Vegan sent you.
(I just found out about the whole supplement option on there myself and kind of had a nerdgasm.)
Anyways, if you enjoyed basking in the rays of vegan education, be sure to share this post around. And I'd love to hear from you: Where do your get your vitamin D? Let me know in the comments!
FAQs About Vitamin D by By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD of the Vegetarian Resource Group
Low Vitamin D Levels in Adults By Daniel L. Hurley, MD, FACE
Vitamin D Toxicity from the Mayo Clinic
Low Vitamin D and Depression
Vitamin D supplementation for depressive symptoms by Shaffer JA, Edmondson D, Wasson LT, Falzon L, Homma K, Ezeokoli N, Li P, Davidson KW.
Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduces cancer risk: results of a randomized trial by Joan M Lappe, Dianne Travers-Gustafson, K Michael Davies, Robert R Recker, and Robert P Heaney
The Role of Vitamin D in Cancer Prevention and Treatment by Aruna V. Krishnan, Donald L. Trump, Candace S. Johnson, and David Feldman
Connect with Dr. Greger: