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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well


Vitamin D - The Sunshine Vitamin

Janet Hackert, Regional Nutrition Specialist, Northwest Region, University of Missouri Extension


Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is made when the skin is exposed to the sun. But exposure may not provide enough for health benefits. Vitamin D has long been known for its positive effect, in combination with calcium, in promotion of bone health. It also helps in other ways.

Vitamin D helps calcium be absorbed more effectively. Calcium is a key nutrient for bone health and muscle strength. Adequate levels of vitamin D may also reduce the risk of some cancers, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. But how much is enough to support these great health benefits?

In the past, it was thought that exposure to the sun alone was enough for most people to make enough vitamin D to meet their bodies’ needs. But for some, this may not be possible: for example, those who live in more northern climates where the sun is not as strong, those who mostly stay inside during daylight hours, those with dark skin, and those who live where it’s too cold for much of the year to be out and exposed. To get the needed exposure, a person would need to expose face, hands, and arms to the sun (without sun screen) for at least 15 minutes regularly and throughout the year. Sometimes this just does not happen.

The alternative is to consume vitamin D daily. For someone under 50 years of age, the recommended dietary allowance is 200 International Units (IU). For 50-70 year olds, the recommendation is 400 IU. And for someone over 70, the recommendation is 600 IU. There are few foods that contain vitamin D naturally, such as liver, fish, and egg yolk. Many more are fortified with vitamin D. The most well known is milk, with an 8-ounce cup containing 100 IU. Some orange juice is fortified at the same rate of 100 IU per 1 cup serving. Cooked salmon contains 360 IU per 3.5-ounce serving; a 1.75-ounce can of sardines has 250 IU of Vitamin D; and 3 ounces of tuna has 200 IU.


So enjoy the sunshine, and be sure to get enough of the sunshine vitamin – vitamin D.



Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009








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