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Optimizing your diet with vitamin D

Vitamin D is an important nutrient, but unlike most nutrients, it can be difficult to obtain through food. You may be wondering, “am I getting enough?”

Vitamin D is critical in helping the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus, both of which are necessary for building strong bones. Plus, vitamin D plays a role in the nervous system, musculoskeletal system and immune system. If deficient in vitamin D, it can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia (soft bones) in adults. While not everyone with a deficiency has symptoms, some may experience bone pain, fatigue, muscle aches and mood changes. 

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because the body produces it when the skin is exposed to the sun. However, sun exposure may be more limited in the winter when more people stay indoors or wear more clothing when outside. Plus, those with darker skin don’t produce as much vitamin D because the pigment called melanin, blocks absorption. Therefore, sources of vitamin D must be sought out. Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish, such as rainbow trout, salmon, canned light tuna, herring, sardines, tilapia and flounder, and some mushrooms. Egg yolks, beef liver and cheese have minimal amounts. All other foods with vitamin D are fortified. This includes milk, alternative milks, yogurt and orange juice. Children and adults ages 1-70 need 600 IU (15 mcg) of vitamin D per day; those 71 and older need 800 IU (20 mcg). Talk to your physician if you think you may need a dietary supplement. 


National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin D.

About the Author


Jenna Smith is a Nutrition and Wellness Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. Smith uses her experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist to deliver impactful information and cutting-edge programs to Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties and beyond.