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Prairie Fare: Avoid Vitamin D Shortfalls This Winter

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
Vitamin D currently is a nutrient of great interest in the nutrition field.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

As I sat on a plane in Fargo at the beginning of January, I came to a realization. Although I have visited dozens of states, I had spent every January of my life in either North Dakota or Minnesota.

As soon as the airport crew finished de-icing the plane, I was on my way to California for a meeting. The weather forecast in San Diego was a sunny 70 degrees.

After experiencing temperatures of minus 30 the prior week, I think I can handle the 100-degree increase in temperature, I thought to myself.

Upon arrival, with my winter coat tucked under my arm, I peered out the window of the van that took me to the hotel. Cruise ships were anchored on the shore. Flowers were blooming. Green leaves were fluttering in the breeze, still attached to the trees. People were wearing shorts and sandals.

I thought I was dreaming. Where were the people with snowblowers? Where were the icy roads? Where were the ice houses?

After my meeting, I decided to soak up some sun. I rolled up my sleeves and revealed my pale arms to the sun. If I had been in my backyard, I might have had frostbite in the time I spent with my arms and fingers exposed to the elements.

I was doing more than soaking up a little warmth after the winter blast. My skin was making vitamin D.

When you’re shrouded in a winter coat, hat, mittens and a scarf for protection from the elements, your protected skin is not pumping out vitamin D for your body to use. Your age and natural skin color affect how much vitamin D is made by your skin.

Older people and people with dark skin make less vitamin D when their skin is exposed to the sun.

Vitamin D currently is a nutrient of great interest in the nutrition field. Most people are aware of the links among calcium, vitamin D and strong bones. A shortfall of vitamin D is linked to the development of bone-softening diseases, such as rickets among children, and osteomalacia and osteoporosis among adults. Rickets was a common childhood condition until milk was fortified with vitamin D.

According to more recent research, vitamin D deficiency also is linked to the development of type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, depression, certain types of cancer and other diseases.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health, we need about five to 30 minutes of sun exposure midday at least twice a week on our arms, legs, face or back to make enough vitamin D.

However, the Skin Cancer Foundation cites research that even small amounts of sunlight increase our lifetime risk of skin cancer and promotes aging.

With opposing viewpoints by heath-related organizations, what should we do?

Since we in the northern climates cannot depend on the sun for vitamin D all year, we need to turn to food and dietary supplements. Vitamin D is available from food, including milk, vitamin D-fortified orange juice, salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, beef liver, egg yolks and fortified cereals. Read Nutrition Facts labels to learn more about your fortified food choices.

Check with your health-care provider for recommendations about whether you may need a vitamin D supplement. Some health experts are recommending supplements of 1,000 International Units or more, which is more than twice the current recommendation but is considered to be closer to the optimal amount.

I think my skin made a little vitamin D on my quick trip to California. Will I take another hiatus from the January weather in the future? Probably. I hope I won’t need a winter coat.

Here’s a recipe adapted from one provided by the University of Massachusetts. It features salmon, a source of vitamin D and heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Be sure to have a glass of vitamin D-rich milk, too.

Baked Salmon With Special Seasonings

1 pound salmon

1/4 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/8 tsp. black pepper

1/8 tsp. dried oregano

1/8 tsp. dried thyme

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 1/2 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine

If using frozen fish, thaw in refrigerator according to package directions. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Separate the fish into four pieces and place in a baking dish. Combine dry ingredients and sprinkle over the fish. Drizzle butter or margarine over the top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 250 calories, 16 grams (g) of fat, 1 g of carbohydrate and 105 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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