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Don't blame it on the sunshine: New vitamin D guidelines for all

Posted on 22 July 2016 .
Tags: Health and wellbeing (2), National Diet and Nutrition Survey, diet and nutrition, food

Vitamin D plays an important role in keeping us healthy. It contributes to bone and muscle health and brain development, and reduces cancer risk, amongst other functions. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has this week updated recommendations on how much vitamin D we should be getting. Everybody aged 4 years and older is advised to consume 10 micrograms of vitamin D per day, with ‘safe level’ recommendations of 8.5-10 micrograms per day for infants aged 0-1, and 10 micrograms per day for 1 to 4 year olds.   

Let the sunshine in

Unlike other vitamins which can’t be produced by the body, vitamin D is synthesised when our skin is exposed to sunlight. So it seems a good excuse to get ourselves out in the sunshine!

Unfortunately, those of us who grew up in the UK know the flaws in that plan. The drizzle and grey skies conspire against us.

This problem is reflected in the most recent data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. The data suggest that in the UK all age and sex groups studied (4 years old and above) were at risk of vitamin D deficiency. The chart below shows that, averaged across age groups, the proportion of people showing low vitamin D levels was greatest during winter months.

Vit D Levels

(Source National Diet and Nutrition Survey).

Should I move to the Mediterranean?

Whilst it would be nice to move somewhere sunny in the name of good health, we can also obtain small amounts of vitamin D from foods we eat. In particular oily fish (as well as red meat, liver, egg yolks, and fortified foods) like salmon and mackerel are an important source. However, another look at NDNS data suggests that as a population we are behind guidelines here too. We are advised to eat one portion of oily fish per week – roughly 140g. The chart below shows that all age groups, on average, are some way below the guideline.  

 Oily Fish Intake

(Source National Diet and Nutrition Survey).

The SACN recommendation includes vitamin D from all sources. That includes supplements. So in the absence of a yearly excuse to exchange the cold for a tropical climate, pill-form vitamin D might have to be on the menu with your winter comfort food.  

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