Vitamin D is a hot topic at the moment. It supports the strength and growth of our bones, teeth and muscles to keep them healthy. It also regulates the amount of calcium and phosphorus in our blood to keep these nutrients at safe levels, as well as playing a role in supporting our immune system.
Children are at increased risk of low levels of vitamin D because they can spend more time indoors causing lack of access to the sun, and are more likely to be covered up with clothes and sunscreen during time outside. Children may not get adequate vitamin D sources in their diets, and may not consume a vitamin D supplement.
Risk factors for low levels of vitamin D include reduced sun exposure, poor diet, poor absorption in the body, medicine, dark skin pigmentation, and vegan or vegetarian diets.
This is not the same as deficiency, which is a more serious health issue. Deficiency can result in bones becoming soft and weak, which can cause bone deformities. And in severe cases in adults it can lead to osteomalacia, which can cause bone pain and tenderness. In children a lack of vitamin D can lead to rickets. A severe condition causing bone pain, poor growth, and soft bones leading to deformities.
We all know that having an excess of something is not always good. It is the same for vitamin D. High doses of vitamin D supplements can result in hypercalcaemia (high levels of calcium in the blood). Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, renal failure, weakness and needing to urinate more often. This is rare in the UK.
How much do I need?
The recommended nutrient intake for all people aged 4 and above is 10ug every day.
As always, speak to a healthcare professional if concerned.
In the winter months, we are spending more time indoors, the majority of us will not reach sufficient vitamin D levels from sunlight and food. Between October and March, it is suggested that we all consider supplementing 10ug every day.
How do I get it?
You can get vitamin D through sunshine via our skin and dietary sources.
Vitamin D is often referred to as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because our bodies can produce a small amount of it via our skin from the sunlight (UVB exposure). During the summer months (April till September) most of the population will get enough vitamin D from sunlight and a healthy balanced diet. However, how much sun exposure and dietary sources varies from person to person.
As a guide, between 15- 30 minutes of sun exposure to uncovered forearms, hands or lower legs without sunscreen should be enough. But you should be careful not to burn, and take care in the sun, especially during the hottest time of the day. Encouraging children to play outside and get off the screens in the spring and summer months without sun cream can help their bodies produce this vital vitamin.
*Fortified means vitamin D is added to the food*
• Oily fish (Salmon, Herring, Mackerel, Anchovies and Sardines).
• Red meat.
• Fortified fat spreads.
• Fortified formula milks.
• Fortified breakfast cereals.
• Fortified dairy products and milks.
• Fortified plant-based drink alternatives and dairy alternatives may be. Always
check the label first.
• Mushrooms that are exposed to sunlight can be a good source. (This must be
done with the inner stalk facing towards the sun, but each box of mushrooms’ nutritional profile will vary, so it should not be your only source).
Consuming these foods regularly as part of a balanced diet will allow your child to reach the recommended vitamin D requirements.
As a guide, aim to reach 10ug every day. This can be done through supplements. Include good dietary sources such as oily fish, eggs, and fortified products, alongside a varied and balanced diet. Also aim to get some sun exposure.
If concerned, speak to a registered health professional, including your GP.
Christchurch Food Festival Education Trust: Charity Number 1127292
Bournemouth University: MSc Nutrition and Behaviour: Francesca