Lynn DiTaranto, Department of Public Health.
Lynn is a Nutrition Education Specialist with DPH.
It seems like nutrition recommendations are constantly changing. Even I – a nutritionist! – get confused and frustrated when one study seems to contradict another. The most recent example of this is all the talk about vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a well known nutrient that is paired with calcium in the importance of bone health. In the past, vitamin D was thought to be nothing more than calcium’s wingman. Recently, though, vitamin D has been the nutrient “du jour”. Because it interacts with almost every cell in the body, there are many hypotheses that low vitamin D intake could be linked to a range of conditions and diseases.
Some scientists believe that most of us don’t get enough vitamin D—especially adolescent girls, the elderly and those living in areas with a longer winter. Why might we come up so short? Sunlight exposure is the number one source of vitamin D, but with only a few months of summer sun and lots of sun protection, it’s difficult to naturally absorb the recommended amount. Also, there are only a few foods such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel that naturally contain vitamin D.
So here’s the rub. A new report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports that the average American does have enough vitamin D circulating in their bloodstream. This may be because people are able to store whatever vitamin D they are making after sun exposure, or because people have been taking a multivitamin or vitamin D supplement with all of the vitamin D promise in the press.
The report also highlights that new nutrient guidelines suggest most people need to consume no more than 600 – 800 IUs of vitamin D a day to maintain health—a contradiction to the high levels of 2,000 IUs (or more) that has been recommended by some researchers and can only be achieved by taking supplements. The IOM report also concludes that, based on a review of high-quality research studies, high doses of calcium and vitamin D are not necessarily linked to greater health benefits.
So what is a person to do? Here’s my take. The bottom line is that eating healthy foods that contain calcium and vitamin D are important to boost bone health. Almost all milk in the U.S. is fortified with vitamin D and so are a growing number of other food items such as breakfast cereals, soy beverages, yogurt, orange juice, and margarine. Check your food labels for details! While the jury may be out on vitamin D supplements, a typical multivitamin will give you a safe vitamin D boost while also increasing your intake of important nutrients—just in case your diet isn’t always perfect.
How do you feel about the latest vitamin D dilemma? What do you do to wade through all the press about nutrition? Let us know what you have to say. We’d love to hear from you!
Get more information on the new IOM report.