Vitamin D Deficiency is on the rise in the UK, especially for our children, according to a multitude of health reports, including an article in the British Medical Journal.
Meanwhile a significant study of adults in 2010 discovered that one in eight Caucasians, one in four African Caribbeans and one in three Asians demonstrated vitamin D deficiency during winter or spring that could be referred to as “severe”.
In fact the Daily Telegraph has recently reported (26th November 2012) leading scientists’ fears of a vitamin d deficiency epidemic this winter due to the poor summer just gone. As the onset of winter in the UK has seen our chances getting vitamin D from sun exposure diminish, we look at what the best food sources are that contain vitamin D.
WHY ARE VITAMIN D FOODS IMPORTANT?
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient for health maintenance. One of the reasons for this is that vitamin D affects your body’s capability of absorbing other key nutrients, For instance vitamin D deficiency is detrimental to the absorption of calcium and phosphate which are necessary for healthy bone and muscle development. Insufficient levels may lead to rickets and bone abnormalities in children, whilst adults may experience bone pain and sensitivity due to osteomalacia.
The problem is vitamin D deficiency does not always present obvious symptoms, instead manifesting itself as tiredness or achy pains. This means that vitamin D deficiency is not necessarily easy to diagnose, though the effects could be more significant than those apparent. It is believed by some experts that the health maintenance benefits of vitamin D are so significant that it help to prevent major diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Regardless of this, what is not in doubt is that vitamin d deficiency can lead to various health problems.
THE SUNSHINE VITAMIN
It is commonly accepted that the optimum source of vitamin D is the sunshine, hence it is often referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’. Exposure is only required for around 20 minutes 2-3 times per week and, although this can be a challenge in the UK winter, this is only part of the problem. Even in countries with constant sunshine vitamin d deficiency is an issue. For instance the UAE has what it has described as an endemic due to a culture of sun-avoidance.
The simple fact is that no matter what the climate lack of sun exposure can be an issue for anyone. Obviously the UK winter presents its own problems as predominantly dark, overcast skies and winter woolies make sun bathing unlikely. In such cases it is of added importance that the vitamin D lost in sun exposure is compensated for through diet. So what are the best vitamin D food sources?
FOODS HIGH IN VITAMIN D
Foods high in vitamin D are oily fish, egg yolks, fortified fat spreads, fortified breakfast cereals and powdered milk.
Oily fish includes mackerel, sardines, salmon, pilchards, herring, trout and tuna and all of them, along with cod liver oil, are foods high in Vitamin D.
Most vegetables contain little vitamin D, you should concentrate on dark green leafy vegetables such as Broccoli and Spinach are a better bet.
Food manufacturers have for many years been fortifying margarine and other fat spreads as well as breakfast cereals with Vitamin D and the percentages are usually listed on the packaging.
UK butter and milk contain very little or no Vitamin D, but powdered baby milk is another food source high in Vitamin D.
Due to the lack of foods potent in vitamin D it is difficult to acquire enough through natural diet. Vitamin D supplements are an effective way of topping up your intake, especially in the winter months. Vitamin D3 is widely accepted as being the best nutritional form. As vitamin D has the greatest potential for toxicity of all vitamins be sure not to take more than is recommended.
Cod liver oil capsules also have significant vitamin D content and has many other health support benefits to make it a good supplement option.
WHO SHOULD WORRY?
There are a number of groups in the population who may be at greater risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Though, as mentioned earlier, in a country like the UK after a bad summer, the majority of the population are likely to have low levels.
One group is pregnant women, who are advised to ensure they take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D to make sure they are getting enough for themselves and for the foetus to store for early infancy.
Other groups at risk are people with darker skin, such as those of African and Afro-Caribbean and Asian origin, people whose culture requires that they cover up their skin when outdoors, those who are confined indoors for much of the time and older people aged 65-plus because elderly people have thinner skin than younger people and so are unable to produce as much vitamin D.
People who follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, or a non-fish-eating diet may also be at risk.
The NHS guidelines also identify medical conditions that can affect the way the body handles vitamin D. They include people with Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, and some types of liver and kidney disease.
As Britain faces a vitamin d deficiency epidemic this winter it is important to be aware of the best food sources for vitamin D. Unfortunately the opportunities to acquire vitamin D through diet are fairly limited so you may find that supplementation is required.
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