Long and sun-filled summer days means you’ve probably been getting a lot of Vitamin D lately. Good thing since this one little nutrient plays a big role in your body! With fall just around the corner, however, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re getting enough, no matter if you’re a vegan or an omnivore.
Known as the sunshine vitamin, in its active form Vitamin D acts more accurately as a hormone. Since humans can get it from the sun, we technically don’t need to consume it. Depending on your skin color, it takes only about fifteen to twenty minutes of sun exposure on our arms and legs to get our daily requirements. Thanks to industrialization and the increased risk of skin cancers and wrinkles, we now spend most of our time indoors and/or wearing sunscreen, so when we do go outdoors we significantly reduce our intake. Even if we do get enough sun during the summer, many of us live above the 40 north latitude line (below 40 south in the southern hemisphere) and do not get any significant sun exposure during the winter months.1
Food sources of vegan Vitamin D include fortified plant milks that can contain as much as 25% of your daily requirement. Mushrooms are another rich source of Vitamin D. One cup of Maitake contains about 790 IU (International Unit), one cup of Chanterelles about 115 IU and one cup Morels contain about 135 IU. Other mushrooms contain about 20 IU per cup.2 Some orange juices also contain added Calcium and Vitamin D. Just make sure to check your labels – you want the plant versions of both those nutrients. Unfortunately, food sources alone may not get us to the Vitamin D levels we need for optimal health.
That’s why some of us may need to supplement. Vitamin D comes in two forms, D2, also known as ergocalciferol, the plant-based version and the animal-derived version, Vitamin D3, cholecalciferol.1 We can absorb both versions adequately, though the plant-based version does not stay in our blood system as long. If you do choose to supplement you may want to take about 1000 IU per day of D2, more than the recommended 600 IU.3 Just remember that too much of a good thing is never a good thing and since Vitamin D is one of the fat soluble vitamins we store in our fatty tissue, toxic levels can build up over time. If you must supplement try not to get more than 2,000 IU (or 50 µg) per day. Therapeutic doses may range much higher and should only be administered by a medical professional that has diagnosed a deficiency.
Most of us know that Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, however, a recent study published in the journal Neurology confirmed a link between low Vitamin D levels and dementia in older adults. They followed over 1600 older adults with no signs of cardiovascular disease, dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease and monitored their Vitamin D levels. After about five years, over 170 developed dementia with 102 of those subjects developing Alzheimer’s and of that group many had significantly low serum levels of Vitamin D.4
If that isn’t enough to get you on the Vitamin D bandwagon, how about indications that it may also have a role in protecting against diseases such as tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, some cancers, hypertension and inflammation, which seems to be linked to many other conditions, including autoimmune disorders. Vitamin D may also help with cell growth.1
Now you have the perfect excuse to get off the internet and into the warm sunshine, as well as eat some delicious mushrooms.
1: Whitney & Rolfes. Understanding Nutrition. 12 Ed. 2011.
2: Diet Analysis Software. Cengage
3: Norris & Messina. Vegan for Life. 2011.
4: Littlejohns, Henley, Lang, et al. Vitamin D and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease. Neurology published online August 6, 2014.