In many ways, Vitamin D is an important nutrient for both children and adults. It helps our body absorb calcium from the food we eat, an essential step in the formation and development of strong and healthy bones. Vitamin D also helps our muscles, heart, lungs and brain function properly, in addition to helping us fight infections.
It is also an easily obtained vitamin – our body can make it when we expose our skin to sunlight. Since it is sunny all year round in Malaysia, we tend to take for granted that our skin can make enough vitamin D. However, this is not as simple as it sounds. Our body needs sunlight’s ultraviolet ray B (UVB) to make vitamin D, so you would have to be out in the midday sun in order for your body to produce more vitamin D. Not exactly the kind of sunlight exposure that many of us would enjoy!
Foods rich in vitamin D
Now, there is no need to rush out to stand and sweat under the midday sun. There is a far more pleasant source of vitamin D – milk!
Nutritionists are recommending that children, and even adults, drink two servings of milk daily – that is 200 ml twice a day. We need 5 mg of vitamin D daily and two servings of milk fortified with vitamin D provide that amount. Therefore, milk is an easy and convenient way to fulfil your daily vitamin D needs. Best of all, it can be enjoyed by the whole family!
In addition to milk, you can also eat foods rich in vitamin D including fatty fish like mackerel (ikan kembung), sardine, tuna and salmon. Other foods like mushrooms, egg yolk, beef liver and dairy products such as yoghurt, butter and cheese, also have vitamin D. Nowadays, many brands of orange juice, margarine and breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D.
Soak up the sun!
Since sunlight is free, you may be tempted to soak up the rays as much as possible to get enough vitamin D. Before you grab your sunscreen, first let us take a look at some common misperceptions about getting vitamin D from sunlight.
- No glasses, please. UVB cannot pass through glass, so lazing by a window with the air-conditioner switched on will not work (unfortunately). You need to be out there, under the sun.
- Just a little while. You only need to spend 10 to 15 minutes (the darker your skin, the more time you may need to spend under the sun) for 3 times a week to meet your body’s vitamin D requirement.
- Watch the sunscreen. Sunscreen helps to keep your skin from prematurely wrinkling and it also helps to cut down the risk of skin cancer. However, keep the skin of your face, arms, back, or legs sunscreen-free when you are soaking up the UVB, as sunscreen blocks it from reaching the skin.
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Medline Plus. Available at www.nlm.nih.gov
Poh, B.K., et al (2013). Nutritional status and dietary intakes of children aged 6 months to 12 years: findings of the Nutrition Survey of Malaysian Children (SEANUTS Malaysia). British Journal of Nutrition; 110 Suppl 3:S21–35.
4. Vitamin D Council. Available at www.vitamindcouncil.org
5. WebMD. Available at www.webmd.com