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Vitamin D and Sunlight

Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin. Our skin can make vitamin D after being exposed to the sun’s rays. However, radiation from the sun also increases the risk of skin cancer.

The safest way to get vitamin D is through whole foods, and supplements if needed. Avoid exposing yourself to UVR rays to meet vitamin D needs.

Why do we need vitamin D?

Vitamin D is needed for strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D may also help fight infections and lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and colorectal cancer.1

How much do we need each day?

Health Canada’s recommendations for the amount of vitamin D we need are based on having little contact with the sun. This means that if we get the amount recommended from our diet, we would not need more vitamin D from the sun.

  • Birth to 1 year old: 400 IU (international units)
  • 1 to 70 years old: 600 IU
  • Over 70 years old: 800 IU2

There is currently no conclusive evidence that having more than the recommended amount of vitamin D is better for your health. New research may change recommendations in the future.

Vitamin D is stored in fat cells. If you have too much vitamin D, the extra can build up and cause damage to the heart, blood vessels and kidneys. Health Canada recommends less than 4 000 IU daily of vitamin D for people 9 years old and older.2 Regularly having more than 4 000 IU daily increases the chance of damage.

What are good food sources?

  • Fatty fish (e.g., salmon, snapper, mackerel, sardines)
  • Milk, fortified soy beverage, fortified almond beverage, fortified orange juice
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified margarine
  • Cod liver oil

2 cups of milk or fortified soy beverage and 1 serving (75 grams) of sockeye salmon would provide an adult with enough vitamin D for one day.

What about supplements?

Choose whole foods first. Whole foods have other nutritional benefits also, like protein, fibre, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Since so few foods are good sources of vitamin D, you may need to take a daily vitamin D supplement to get enough.

It is recommended that you talk to a health care provider before you take any supplements.

Which special groups are recommended to take a supplement?

All breastfed, healthy term babies from birth until 2 years old should have a 400 IU vitamin D supplement daily to lower the risk of developing rickets (soft bones).1

All adults over 50 years of age should take a 400 IU vitamin D supplement daily.2

People with certain medical conditions may also need a vitamin D supplement. Talk to your health care provider if you have Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease or liver disease to see if you should take a daily vitamin D supplement.1

 
Date of creation: February 18, 2013
Last modified on: April 9, 2018
 
 

References

1Dietitians of Canada. (2013). Vitamin D: What you need to know. Retrieved from
http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Vitamin-D--What-you-need-to-know.aspx
2Health Canada. (2012). Vitamin D and calcium: Updated Dietary Reference Intakes. Retrieved from
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/vitamin/vita-d-eng.php