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Prairie Fare: Know Your Sources of the Sunshine Vitamin

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
Vitamin D is in the nutrition spotlight for many reasons.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist NDSU Extension Service

After having very limited sun exposure during the winter months, I planted our garden in a sleeveless shirt. Unfortunately, planting took longer than I thought.

I should have known better. Actually, I do know better.

I should have been wearing sunscreen or a long-sleeved shirt. I should have worn a hat. I should have avoided the midday sun.

When I went inside, I realized my arms were hot. Really hot. Really pink, too. To top it off, the color of my nose matched my arms.

On the bright side, my body was making vitamin D after a long winter spent indoors. I rubbed some soothing lotion on my flaming, formerly ghostlike arms.

The action of sunlight on skin prompts the body to make vitamin D, which then is activated in the liver and kidneys. As a result of the sun’s involvement, vitamin D often is called the sunshine vitamin.

The downside of too much sun is well-documented. Along with the immediate effects of sunburn, too much sun can lead to premature aging and, potentially, skin cancer. According to an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the lifetime risk for skin cancer is one in three among Caucasian Americans.

Those aren’t odds to take lightly.

On the other hand, we need vitamin D as well as calcium and several other nutrients for strong bones. Without adequate vitamin D, bones can become brittle or misshapen. Rickets, a condition of softened, weakened bones, was an issue years ago.

Rickets is becoming an issue again, especially among darker-skinned children, such as African American, Latino and Middle Eastern, in some areas of the U.S.

Vitamin D is in the nutrition spotlight for many reasons. More recently, researchers have linked vitamin D insufficiency with certain types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other chronic diseases among adults.

Older adults, breast-fed infants, people with dark skin, those with limited sun exposure and obese individuals are most likely to be deficient in vitamin D.

Certain medications, such as prednisone, certain weight loss drugs and certain seizure-control drugs, can interact with vitamin D and make it less available. Contact your pharmacist or other health-care professional for more information about drug interactions.

We need year-round sources of vitamin D. Food and vitamin supplements offer a readily available source. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 400 international units (IU) per day. RDAs are set to meet the needs of the majority of healthy people.

Some researchers believe current recommendations are too low. An “adequate intake” level for people 71 or older has been set at 600 IU per day.

Fortified cereals, milk, salmon, tuna and mackerel are good sources of vitamin D. One cup of milk provides one-fourth of the current recommendation for vitamin D. Some brands of orange juice and yogurt are fortified with vitamin D.

Cod liver oil is another vitamin D source. That’s not a popular menu item for lots of reasons.

Try this vitamin D- and calcium-rich recipe courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Association at You can make this without freezing the banana slices, but freezing them creates a shakelike texture.

Peanut Butter and Banana Breakfast Shake

1 c. fat-free or 1 percent low-fat chocolate milk

1/2 c. frozen banana slices

1 Tbsp. peanut butter

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. Serve in a tall glass or on-the-go drink container.

Makes one serving. Each serving has 270 calories, 9 grams (g) of fat, 35 g of carbohydrate, 3 g of fiber, 15 g of protein, 35 percent of the daily value for calcium and 25 percent of the daily value for vitamin D.

(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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