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Medical Mythbuster: Can Your Diet Provide All the Vitamin D You Need?

By David Carlson, MD
Department of Family Practice
Southborough & Milford

While certain foods such as seafood, beef, and eggs do contain healthy amounts of vitamin D, and other foods such as milk and breakfast cereal are fortified with vitamin D, the fact is that it’s almost impossible to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from your diet alone.

The reason for this is that nature designed us to get most of our vitamin D through our skin from exposure to the sun. However, even people who live in sunny climates can be deficient in vitamin D. This is due to the fact that many of us spend a majority of our time indoors these days to avoid the sun’s dangerous rays or stay cool. Wearing sunscreen when you are outdoors can also lower your body’s ability to make vitamin D. In addition, people with dark complexions do not absorb as much vitamin D from the sun as people who have fairer skin. This is the reason more African-Americans tend to suffer from vitamin D deficiencies.

Vitamin D is an important way to prevent osteoporosis and could be helpful in preventing many other health problems (although more conclusive studies are needed). You should talk to your medical provider if you think your vitamin D levels are deficient. Your provider may recommend a blood test to learn more. Keep in mind you need more vitamin D as you get older. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D in the United States is 600 IUs before age 70 and 800 IUs after age 70. So be sure to supplement your vitamin D levels if you are not getting enough.

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Vitamin D

Life Stage Recommended Amount
Birth to 12 months 10 mcg (400 IU)
Children 1–13 years 15 mcg (600 IU)
Teens 14–18 years 15 mcg (600 IU)
Adults 19–70 years 15 mcg (600 IU)
Adults 71 years and older 20 mcg (800 IU)
Pregnant and breastfeeding teens and women 15 mcg (600 IU)

Table above provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

IU = International Units

Medical Mythbuster: Can Your Diet Provide All the Vitamin D You Need?

About David Carlson, MD

Dr. David Carlson first became interested in medicine when he was working as a lifeguard at the YMCA during his teenage years. “I did first aid as part of that job, treating bumps and scrapes and even broken bones,” he explains. “That’s what really piqued my interest, but I also had a passion for science so it seemed natural to put those two things together to begin a career in medicine.”

Dr. Carlson says he enjoys...

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