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Prairie Fare: Focus on the Sunshine Vitamin

Getting a little sun, but not too much, has potential health benefits.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

For Mother's Day, my two oldest kids treated me to a minispa treatment. They did it all by themselves.

They propped me up on pillows on the couch and massaged my face and feet. They applied every type of lotion in my cosmetics collection. I was so relaxed that I nearly fell asleep.

"Let's give Mom a tan face and feet!" my 11-year-old son announced.

"Yeah, that would be a nice finishing touch!" my 8-year-old daughter replied.

My eyes popped open.

"No. Stop right now!" I exclaimed.

All I needed was an orange face and feet from a self-tanning lotion that doesn't work too well on my Scandinavian skin. After a long winter spent indoors, I'm a little ghostly.

Getting a little sun, but not too much, has potential health benefits. Many people fall short of the recommendation for vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. To avoid the damaging effects of too much sun exposure (wrinkling or worst case, skin cancer), many people rarely expose their unprotected skin to the sun.

Vitamin D is produced by the action of sunlight on an inactive form of the vitamin present in our skin. Our body uses vitamin D, calcium and other nutrients to build and maintain strong bones, among many other functions.

According to research, getting enough vitamin D from sun exposure and/or food may help protect us from several diseases. Getting enough vitamin D may help prevent colon, breast and prostate cancer; diabetes; multiple sclerosis; heart disease and other illnesses.

Older adults and African Americans are among the groups more likely to have low vitamin D levels. Stay tuned as scientists learn more about how much vitamin D is "enough." While we do not have official recommendations for a safe level of sun exposure for vitamin D, some health experts have weighed in.

We don't need to "broil" ourselves in sunlight. About 15 minutes of sunlight on our unprotected arms and legs, or hands, arms and face, two or three times a week can provide vitamin D. Avoid the burning rays of midday sun, though.

Vitamin D is naturally found in oily fish, such as salmon and herring. A cup of milk, which is fortified with vitamin D, provides about one-fourth of the current daily recommendation for vitamin D.

In addition to milk, some types of cereal, yogurt, juice and cheese – but not all – have added vitamin D. Dietary supplements, such as "one a day" products and some calcium supplements, also provide vitamin D. On vitamins, look for 100 percent of the daily value. Check cereal and other food labels for added vitamin D.

June is Dairy Month, and milk is a good source of vitamin D. If you like coffee, you will enjoy this calcium-rich recipe from the Midwest Dairy Association. You can find more recipes and information about dairy by visiting

Iced Vanilla Mochaccino

2 c. of strong French roast coffee

2 c. fat-free milk

1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Brew two cups of French roast or espresso-style coffee and pour into a small saucepan with milk, cocoa powder, sugar and vanilla extract. Simmer for five minutes. Let cool for five minutes; pour over ice in two large-lidded cups and shake well before serving.

Note: This beverage also can be prepared warm. After simmering ingredients, blend with a hand-held electric mixer to create a frothy top and carefully pour into coffee mugs.

Makes two servings. Each serving has 130 calories, 2 grams (g) of fat, 20 g of carbohydrate and 30 percent of the daily recommendation for calcium.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

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