Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | February 7, 2017

Most New Year’s resolutions have faded from priorities to memories. So, what can you do now to enhance your health? For starters, you can make sure that you’re getting the right amount of vitamin D. Vitamin D is different from most other vitamins because we make some of it ourselves. While we obtain other vitamins through food or from the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tracts, we get vitamin D from the sunlight that we absorb on the surface of our skin. It’s no surprise that wintertime is a difficult time for most of us to produce enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium, which is crucial for bone health and heart function. There are a number of additional functions of vitamin D that are currently being studied such as muscle structure, metabolism, immunity and the prevention of some autoimmune diseases.

During the winter, our vitamin production and levels of vitamin D in our bloodstreams decrease for a number of reasons. As long as we’re aware of this, there are a few things we can do to offset a detrimental lack of vitamin D.

There are multiple factors that prevent us from obtaining adequate vitamin D.

  1. Where You Live. You’ll have a hard time producing enough vitamin D if you live in areas that are further away from the sun. Northern latitudes, for example, are too far from the sun during winter months for people to absorb enough sunlight. We also make less vitamin D at lower altitudes than at higher ones for the same reason.
  2. Weather. Do you live in an area that’s constantly cloudy? That can limit the amount of sunlight and, therefore, vitamin D you receive on a regular basis.
  3. Habits. Do you stay in the shade during the summer to avoid the sun? What about wearing sun hats, sun screen and UVA/UVB protective clothing? All of these are necessary to avoid the harmful rays of the sun and prevent skin cancer, but they also limit our exposure to vitamin D. Before using sun protection, take extra care to get at least 10 minutes of pure exposure to the sun every day without these blockers.
  4. Skin Color. Do you have dark skin? Darker pigments can also limit the amount of vitamin D your skin absorbs. More time in the sun unprotected is necessary for people who have darker skin tones.
  5. Food Sources. Not many foods contain a high amount of naturally occurring vitamin D. Salmon, other fatty fish, egg yolks and cheese are high in vitamin D. Some foods, such as milk and cereals, are fortified with vitamin D, but they’re not a high quality form of the vitamin. Supplements may be necessary for those who can't maintain adequate levels (especially in the winter months). A high quality, third party-tested supplement is crucial and supplementation should only be used after a blood test shows a deficiency.

Vitamin D is one of the trickier nutrients to obtain. By being mindful of your environment and habits, you can make sure that you’re getting enough vitamin D even during the gloomiest of winter days!

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Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/ Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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