The importance of vitamin D and how to include it in your diet
D is for dark days and the vitamin you need to smile your way through them.
We are in the depths of winter, which means many of us are going from home to work to home again in the dark with almost no time spent outdoors. And, if you’re anything like me, this can lead to a slightly sub-par mood (or worse).
Exposure to natural light is key to maintaining a good disposition — indeed, the production of vitamin D (a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced from direct exposure to UVB rays on our skin) relies on it. With recent reports of the re-emergence of the bone disease rickets in our younger population, and with more than 30 per cent of adults in New Zealand having sub-optimal levels of vitamin D in the body, it’s important we do what we can to optimise this through our diet during the winter months as the sun doesn’t hit the Earth at the right latitude for the production of those rays.
While our daily recommended level is set at 5ug (milligrams) per day, there is a suggestion that this is set far lower than what it should be, as it’s based on the role that vitamin D plays in bone metabolism and fails to take into account the important role vitamin D has in our brain, gut and immune system. And our mood!
There is a strong association between vitamin D and mental health, and many clients who have low levels of vitamin D benefit from supplemental support to bring them up to within normal range. This markedly improves their sense of wellbeing. However, no supplement can work in the absence of dietary change, where required, and including food sources of vitamin D regularly into the diet is essential.
The richest sources are full-fat dairy products, eggs, liver and oily fish. How often are these part of your weekly diet?
Here are some tips to include them more often:
- Switch from low-fat dairy products to the full-fat versions. It’s easy, costs no more and you will feel more satisfied after eating them. It’s not about consuming a whole block of butter in one hit, but more about choosing these foods naturally containing more vitamin D in place of those that don’t.
- Liver is an awesome food to include in your super diet. It is rich in the fat soluble vitamins (including vitamin D), minerals such as zinc and iron and antioxidants to support brain, gut and heart health. Just twice a week is a great start and if you’re not that keen, opt to “hide” it in meatloaf, or get your butcher to blend it into your mince. Quickly frying liver with good quality bacon and spinach in a little coconut oil with some seasoning is a satisfying way to start the day.
- Include eggs into your daily diet — the perfect breakfast, lunch, snack or light dinner. Not only a good source of vitamin D, they also contain iron, zinc, antioxidants, choline and biotin — two important nutrients for brain health and collagen development.
- Sardines are super-convenient and cost-effective. Buy those that are packed in olive oil or spring water. Mash sardines with avocado, lemon, salt and pepper and wrap them in lettuce leaves for a quick snack, or add an egg or two to turn it into lunch. Or make some fritters. This recipe is one of my staples.
1 Tbsp ground almonds
2 tsp coconut flour (or double the amount of ground almonds)
1 can sardines, drained
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp black sesame seeds
½ tsp chilli flakes
Coconut oil, butter or extra virgin olive oil for frying
- Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor until blended (or mix in a bowl).
- Heat a non-stick frying pan and add oil when hot. Turn down to a moderate heat and cook the mixture in tablespoon-size fritters for 4 minutes until golden. Flip and repeat.
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Through her subscription service of meal plans and nutritional support nutritionist Mikki Williden helps people manage their diets in an interesting way, at a low cost. To find out more and to sign up, visit mikkiwilliden.com