Where we live, if you wake up to a beautiful, mid-winter, sunny day, you grab your coat and hat and head outside! We did just that on the weekend – for “a little vitamin D” as the saying goes. Sunshine can be rare these days, so we decided to celebrate this good weather with a little snowshoeing.
We got lots of exercise and fresh air, but the question is did we get our vitamin D? You see, we live approximately 45 degrees north of the Equator. This time of year the sun’s rays are not that strong. However, when reflected off the snow, the sun’s ultra-violet rays double in strength.
Vitamin D is all the talk these days. It is considered an important vitamin in the prevention of many acute illnesses and chronic diseases. As the media continuously reports, most of us Canadians are deficient in this vitamin.
The best source of vitamin D is produced by our skin after sun exposure. There are some food sources such as, fortified grains, fortified plant-based and animal-based milk, fish, and cod liver oil. However, all these food sources have a minimal amount of vitamin D compared to what our bodies can make from the sun.
A plant-based diet is not the cause of a vitamin D deficiency. A vitamin D deficiency is a sign of sunlight deficiency.
According to Dr. Matt Lederman, a lecturer in the Plant-Based Nutrition Program at Cornell, vitamin D is made by our bodies when 50% to 75% of our skin is exposed to UVB light. That is, the sunlight we experience around noon hour. If you have the skin type which easily burns and rarely tans, like myself, then only 15 minutes in the sun is required. The darker your skin type, the longer your skin should be exposed to sunlight.
Lederman also suggests that the day’s UV index must be 3 or higher for your body to make vitamin D. If you check out this chart from Environment Canada for today, only a few cities in Canada, and these cities were in southern Ontario, ever got to a UV index of 3.
If getting vitamin D from the sun is unlikely due to your geographic location, your inability to get outside in the sunlight, or your concern with unprotected sun exposure, then supplementation may be required.
When taking vitamin D supplements, be cautious as to avoid toxicity. I believe that supplements should be treated like medicine and taken under the care of a health care provider. If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, get some blood work done.
Vitamin D supplements are generally derived from sheep’s wool or fish oil. Vitashine does make an organic, non GMO plant-based vitamin D supplement made from lichens.
After a good few hours in the snow, we went home to a big bowl of Sweet Potato Lentil Stew. It is hearty and absolutely perfect as a meal on a cold winter’s day.