As summer approaches, people start to spend more time in the sun, which often triggers thoughts of sunscreen. Using sunscreen is the best way to protect your skin. But did you know while you’re protecting your skin, you’re also not absorbing the vitamin D your body needs?
Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin at all, but a hormone. With the right amount of sunlight your body can actually produce vitamin D. Because of this, it’s known as the “sunshine vitamin.” In order for your body to absorb sunlight, it needs to hit your unprotected skin. However, it’s very important to not exposure yourself to the sun without sunscreen for very long—about 5-20 minutes a few days a week should be enough. You’re less likely to get the amount of sunlight you need during winter, or if you’re older or have dark skin. To properly absorb vitamin D, you must be outside in direct sunlight.
So why do we need vitamin D? Research shows vitamin D plays an important role in bone health. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus. It also plays a role in the strength of your immune system and helps regulate cell growth. If you’re not getting enough, your body may lose bone mass, which can lead to osteoporosis and softening of the bones.
Vitamin D is available naturally in very few foods, but you can consume it as a dietary supplement or in foods that have added vitamin D (e.g., milk, yogurt, cheese, orange juice, bread, cereal and soy drinks). Be sure to check the labels on your foods to see if they have added vitamin D. Some oily fish—such as tuna, salmon or mackerel—naturally contain vitamin D.
Learn more about healthy eating by participating in the Riverview Health Nutritional Counseling program.