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Prairie Fare: Soaking up the sunshine vitamin

Sun exposure of 15 minutes, two or three times a week, is enough to produce adequate vitamin D.

“Mom, you can’t spend our vacation in the gift store!” my kids said.

I wasn’t even buying anything. I was enjoying the cool environment of the gift store. When I stood on the pavement outside, I felt as though I was standing on the surface of the sun.

I ventured out of the gift store a while. I think the shop owner was eyeing me a bit suspiciously, so I bought a bottle of water.

Several years ago, we took our kids on a vacation in August to a sunny state. Unfortunately, I do not fare well in extreme heat and humidity, and the thermometer showed at least 100 degrees.

I obviously survived the heat, and I did not return home with a tan. Unlike a lot of my contemporaries, I was never a sun worshipper in my youth.

Years ago, some of my friends applied a mixture of baby lotion and iodine, and then they fried in the sun for hours. Meanwhile, I was inside or sitting in the shade until early evening when the temperature cooled enough for me to go bike riding.

Now we know that tanning increases our risk for sunburn, aging of the skin (wrinkling, sagginess) and ultimately, skin cancer. In fact, sun tanning beds are considered a “known carcinogen” (cancer-causing agent) by the Food and Drug Administration.

I am thankful for the lotions that add a little color to our skin safely without sun exposure.

However, sunlight does have positive effects. Without sunlight, plants would not be able to photosynthesize and produce food and beauty in our environment. Sunlight acts as a disinfectant and kills bacteria on surfaces. Adequate sunlight can boost our mood.

The action of sunlight on our skin produces vitamin D. However, you only need two or three short exposures (15 minutes) of sun on your skin per week to make vitamin D.

Vitamin D has numerous potential health benefits. Most of us are aware of vitamin D’s role in helping our bodies use calcium to build and maintain strong bones. Vitamin D is needed to help our nerves convey messages from the brain throughout the body. We need enough vitamin D to sustain our immune system.

Years ago, mothers used to “sun bathe” infants to reduce their risk of rickets, a bone softening condition usually caused by lack of vitamin D. Sun bathing your baby is not a recommended practice. Health experts recommend sun hats and other protective clothing and sunscreen for children.

Exclusively breastfed infants usually need vitamin D supplement drops, but the amount given should be on the recommendation of a pediatrician. When you introduce solid foods into an infant’s diet, be sure the foods are rich in nutrients. Check for vitamin D.

Older adults, young children, people with dark skin, and people who cover their skin for religious or cultural reasons are more at risk of vitamin D deficiencies. To know your vitamin D status, you would need lab testing.

Besides the action of sunlight on our skin, we can take in vitamin D from food and dietary supplements. Fortunately, the latest version of Nutrition Facts labels includes vitamin D levels in a serving of the food. You might notice that a lot of food products provide no vitamin D.

Vitamin D has been added to cow’s milk since the 1930s as a public health measure. This fortification of milk was designed to reduce the risk of bone-weakening conditions, including rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.

Besides milk, vitamin D often is found in fortified cereals and fruit juices. Trout, salmon, canned tuna and egg yolks are among the food sources where vitamin D is naturally present.

For adults 19 and older, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is set at 600 International Units (IU). Fortunately, food labels and supplement labels will provide a percent of the daily value. If a food has 30% of the daily value, you have taken in about one-third of your daily requirement.

If you choose a supplement, be aware that vitamin D3 is the form produced by humans and animals. Vitamin D3 has been shown to be absorbed better than D2. Both forms will help with vitamin D deficiency, though.

Be sure to get your vitamin D with a little sun and well-chosen foods, and perhaps, a supplement as additional insurance during cold months.

Enjoy a salmon steak, which holds up well on the grill. Salmon steaks usually are sliced to a uniform thickness, so they cook evenly. Before you light the fire, coat the rack with cooking spray so the fish won’t stick to it.

Grilled Salmon

1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound salmon steaks
About 4 teaspoons honey

Mix the spices together in a small bowl. Rub the mixture evenly over the salmon. Grill for five minutes per side, drizzling lightly with a squeeze from the honey container (about 1 teaspoon per steak) just before they’re done.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 190 calories, 23 grams (g) protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, less than 1 g fiber and 630 milligrams sodium.

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


NDSU Agriculture Communication – June 15, 2023

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu

Editor: Elizabeth Cronin, 701-231-7881, elizabeth.cronin@ndsu.edu


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