Call me an addict, but the first sunny morning following a slew of rainy days always propels me outside to soak it up with a maximum skin-to-clothing ratio. Sunshine on skin: an ancient, visceral pleasure, and one of life’s simplest. Too much of it causes wrinkles, sun spots, and skin cancer. But just a little bit of conscientious, unblocked sunbathing is actually as good for our body chemistry as it feels: it converts vitamin D, a unique and crucial nutrient, into one of the three forms that can be absorbed by the human body. (The other two forms come from the diet.)
Surprisingly, a deficiency of the sunny vitamin is more common in Santa Cruz, and more serious, than you’d expect.
“In my practice, I actually see very low vitamin D levels in the majority of people who get them checked. I would say nine out of 10 of my [Santa Cruz] patients who get their vitamin D blood levels checked come back with low levels,” says Jocelyn Dubin, registered dietician at Nourish.
A blood test is the most accurate way to measure levels of vitamin D, the main vitamin responsible for calcium absorption in the bones. “You can take all of the calcium in the world, but if you’re not getting enough vitamin D, that calcium is not getting into your bones,” says Dubin.
Vitamin D also helps the human body balance cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy metabolism and weight. And it plays a major role in immune system functioning: not only are low levels of vitamin D found in people who get sick a lot, but various studies conducted by the Cancer Treatment Centers of America have found vitamin D deficiency to be prevalent in cancer patients.
So how is it that an active, nutrition-conscious portion of Santa Cruz isn’t getting enough Vitamin D?
“We’re eating a lot more foods that have depleted levels of vitamin D,” says Dubin. “For instance, vitamin D is beautifully high in fish with bones, but most people now will buy a boneless, skinless filet of fish, or boneless skinless canned salmon instead of the ones that have the little bones in them. So by default, they’re getting less vitamin D because they’re choosing to eat the product that’s more processed.”
Salmon (with the bones, of course), herring, cod liver oil, eggs, Greek yogurt, fortified milk and fortified cereals are all good sources of vitamin D, according to Dubin. Vegans need not worry, either, as many plant-based milks like soy, rice and almond milks are now being fortified with vitamin D, just as cows’ milk is.
Health professionals recommend 10 to 15 minutes of unblocked sun on the hands, feet, or back at least twice a week for prime vitamin D absorption—and longer for those with a darker complexion.
When it comes to supplements, Dubin recommends taking a blood test first, which costs between $100 and $200, especially since too much vitamin D in your blood can be toxic. For now, I’ll continue reaching for the Greek yogurt.
For more information on getting your “body report card” from a registered dietician, go to www.nourishsantacruz.com.