Nurturing Wellness: Are you getting enough of the Sunshine Vitamin?

Winter sun vitamin D wellbeing

Here’s a crazy fact… about 35-50% of New Zealanders are NOT getting enough vitamin D (they either have a deficiency or sub-optimal levels). That is over 2 million New Zealanders! Women tend to have lower levels than men, those with darker skin tend to have lower levels than those with lighter skin, and during winter is when we are most susceptible to having sub-optimal levels of vitamin D as we have less exposure to the sun. Read on to find out more about how vitamin D can affect your wellness.

Why do we need Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is crucial for a healthy immune system…especially important right now in the southern hemisphere with so many winter bugs around. Plus in terms of mental health and mood, not having enough vitamin D can lead to depression-like symptoms. And vitamin D is a key player in supporting our energy levels and combating fatigue. By optimising your vitamin D levels, you can tap into a reservoir of vitality, feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on the world. So for healthy immune function, energy and a good mood, we need to ensure we’re getting enough of the sunshine vitamin.

What about for those of us heading towards perimenopause and menopause? Vitamin D plays a really important role in calcium homeostasis and therefore bone strength. Women are more affected by a loss of bone strength in the years around perimenopause and menopause, as estrogen, (the key hormone for protecting and maintaining bone density) rapidly declines during this time. Your bone is breaking down at a faster rate than the body can grow new bone tissue which is why vitamin D becomes a very important nutrient during these years, to minimise the loss of bone density and help bones absorb calcium to grow new bone tissue.

There have also been some studies looking at a low level of vitamin D and the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, however no firm links have been found at this stage.

Nutritional supplements
Are supplements the answer?

Should I just take a supplement?

If so many people are low, maybe we should all just take a supplement all year round? No! Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which means it can build up in the body (rather than us flushing it out in our urine like we can with vitamins B and C when we consume more than we need). And according to a scientific journal review, there is emerging evidence that sustained, high levels of vitamin D intake are associated with adverse effects. So no, I wouldn’t suggest that everyone just goes out and starts popping vitamin D supplement pills without having a nutrition consult with a Registered Dietitian, and/or a blood test to review your vitamin D status first.

Where can I get it from then?

Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin as that is where most of us get this important nutrient. When we expose our skin to the UV rays in sunshine, our body cleverly produces vitamin D using body cholesterol. With sunsmart advice, less exposure in winter and perhaps more time inside/on screens…our opportunity to produce this nutrient via sunshine can be compromised. So it’s a good idea to prioritise getting out in the sun, even on a cold winter’s day with some of your face, arms and legs exposed. Check out this table to show you how much time in the sun you need depending on the season and where you live in New Zealand:

(summer) 10 am or 2 pm
(winter) 10 am or 2 pm
(winter) Midday
Auckland6-8 min30-47 min24 min
Christchurch6-9 min 49-97 min40 min

The other good news…there are foods that contain vitamin D such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna), egg yolks, liver and fortified foods. Plus here’s a super cool option…especially if you like mushrooms!

Mushrooms are like humans in that they synthesise vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. To make your tanned mushrooms, simply pop sliced button mushrooms out in the midday sun for 15-30 minutes. When you eat them, you’ll get the vitamin D! Plus if you don’t eat the mushrooms that day, they’ll store the vitamin D for up to 8 days in the fridge 🌞 In Australia, you can even buy pre-sliced, UV exposed mushrooms in the supermarket so it’s all done for you…clever Aussies! For a range of delicious and nourishing recipes your whole family will love, check out my ebooks over on the website shopWinter Warmers, Lovely Legumes and Dinner Sorted to up your nutrition game!

Take Home messages

  • Lots of us are not getting enough vitamin D, especially women and especially in winter
  • We need vitamin D for our immune system, mood and strong bones (even more important as we reach perimenopause and beyond)
  • Aim to get outside in the midday sun for at least 20 minutes a few times a week
  • Enjoy tanned mushrooms in your cooking for a vitamin D boost
  • Have a consult with me, or your GP, to see if a supplement is right for you before popping pills
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