Vitamin D is a nutrient needed for health and to maintain strong bones. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in our bodies, helps bring calcium and phosphorus to our bones and teeth, and helps regulate how much calcium remains in our blood. Together with calcium, vitamin D helps protect against the loss of bone mass.
Vitamin D's importance does not end there. It is also helps muscles function and allows the brain and body to communicate through nerves. The immune system also uses vitamin D to help fight off invading bacteria and viruses. There are three ways to get vitamin D: the sun, through food and drinks or with supplements.
Vitamin D from the Sun
Known as the "sunshine vitamin," your body converts sunlight into vitamin D after it hits unprotected skin. However, be careful to avoid extended exposure to sunlight without sunscreen.
Vitamin D from Food and Drinks
Very few foods naturally have vitamin D. Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are among the best sources of vitamin D. Beef liver, cheese and egg yolk provide small amounts. Mushrooms also contain this vitamin if grown under UV lights.
Fortified foods and drinks provide most of the vitamin D in our diets. Most milk and some cereals are fortified with vitamin D, as are many plant-based beverages, like soymilk. Orange juice, yogurt and cheese may or may not be fortified, so it is always good practice to check the Nutrition Facts Label for vitamin D content.
Vitamin D from Supplements
Some individuals may need extra vitamin D, such as older adults; breastfed infants; people with dark skin; those with certain medical conditions including liver disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease and Crohn's disease; and those with obesity or who have had gastric bypass surgery. Always check with your health care provider before taking a vitamin D supplement.