Vitamin D plays a major role in helping us absorb minerals from the food we eat, such as calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. It plays a critical role in bone health, and having a normal level of vitamin D is also important for your immune system to function properly.
Did you know that only 10 - 20% of the Vitamin D that we need comes from our food? Approximately 90% of the Vitamin D we need comes from sunlight. When our skin is exposed to UVB radiation, it creates Vitamin D, so sunshine is our best source.
Foods like fatty fish with the skin on like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, egg yolk, beef liver and also in sun-baked mushrooms, which are mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight, are all good sources of Vitamin D. Other products including some milk, soy drinks, breads, cereals and table spreads are fortified with Vitamin D.
There are some groups of people that are more at risk of Vitamin D deficiency than others.
This includes people with darker skin tones, people that cover most of their body for religious or cultural reasons, and also people that spend most of their time indoors which, because of COVID-19, is now a lot more of us.
The main long-term effects of not having enough vitamin D includes:
- soft bones that are prone to breaking
- muscle soreness
- muscle weakness
Symptoms of deficiency are not always obvious so if you are concerned you should consult with your GP. Your GP can arrange for you to have a test before taking a supplement.
So how much sun exposure do you need to ensure healthy vitamin D levels?
- In summer, in Australia, people with fair to medium skin will require five to 10 minutes of sun exposure to their arms, either mid-morning or mid-afternoon most days. People with darker skin would need 15 to 60 minutes of exposure on most days.
- In winter, it does depend upon where you live, however, people living in the Hunter, Sydney and Southern NSW with fair to medium skin will need 30 minutes of sunshine at midday (the hottest part of the day) most days. People with darker skin will need anywhere from half an hour to up to three hours of exposure.
Now that we’re spending more time at home and indoors, take the opportunity to get outside during the day, have a break, have your lunch outside or go for a walk. This will help to ensure healthy Vitamin D levels, especially coming into winter.