Sunlight is a major source of vitamin D, which is important for bone health and immune function. But what happens when you barely see the sun?
Your body needs vitamin D to keep your immune system healthy and your bones strong. One major source of vitamin D is free and all-natural: sun exposure. While you can easily get some vitamins from foods, vitamin D isn't found in high concentrations in many foods, which makes getting enough sunshine especially important. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide problem.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include depression, frequent illness, fatigue and bone or back pain. If you think you might have vitamin D deficiency, you should ask your doctor for a test to confirm. You could also try an at-home test for vitamin D deficiency, but do your research on the testing company to make sure it meets lab safety, accuracy and efficacy standards.
Whether or not you get tested, if you decide to take a vitamin D supplement, be careful not to exceed the "tolerable upper intake level" (UL), which is the maximum intake known to be safe. The UL for vitamin D is 100 micrograms (mcg) or 4,000 international units (IU) per day for adults. The recommended daily allowance is far below that at 15 mcg or 600 IU per day for most people. Too much vitamin D from supplements can lead to vitamin D toxicity -- something clinicians are beginning to see more often because of vitamin D's skyrocketing popularity as a supplement.
Either way, before you start spending money on a supplement that may or may not work, you can try these six tactics for getting more vitamin D.
Whether or not your windows block UV depends on what kind of windows you have. Standard windows, according to the International Ultraviolet Association, do allow UV-A rays, but not UV-B rays, to pass through.
Most windows in homes and buildings are treated in some way, such as with a window film or tint, that blocks both types of UV light from passing through. Since that's likely the case in your home or office (and possibly your car), opening the window can help you get more sunlight.
Just be sure to wear sunscreen of at least 15 SPF if you'll have the window open for a long time, as well as UV-blocking glasses or sunglasses if you're directly facing the open window. If it's super sunny outside, you may not need to open the window for more than 10 to 15 minutes to increase your vitamin D production.
Read more: How Much Sunscreen Do You Really Need This Summer?
Take some extra time for yourself in the morning and drink your first cup of coffee outside. Morning light isn't as harsh as sunlight later in the day, but you can still meet at least some of your vitamin D needs this way.
If you work from home, try doing this before you sit down at your desk (you can totally still take a second cup for your initial stretch of computer work though). If you work at an office or another workplace, you might have to set your alarm a few minutes earlier to enjoy the morning light.
Before you cringe at the thought of an earlier wake time, know that you'll get more benefits than just the vitamin D absorption. Carving out time for yourself in the morning, even as little as 10 to 15 minutes, can have a positive impact on your day. You may find yourself looking forward to your early morning coffee because it's a time for you to slow down, be with your thoughts and set your intentions for the day.
Read more: Trying to Cut Back on Coffee? Here Are Some Tips
According to the US Office of Dietary Supplements, fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel are some of the best natural (i.e., not fortified) sources of vitamin D.
In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Composition Database, one 100-gram serving of Atlantic farmed salmon can just about meet your day's requirement for vitamin D at 526 IUs.
Canned tuna, mackerel, rockfish, sardines, swordfish, trout, whitefish and sturgeon also have decent concentrations of vitamin D. Try swapping out one or two meats each week with fish for a super-easy way to get more vitamin D.
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While most adults today grew up hearing that eggs were bad for their heart, that myth has since been disproven (see here, here, here and here) and it turns out that eggs are one of the few food sources that naturally contain vitamin D.
You have to eat the whole egg, though: The yolks are where the vitamin D lives. Eggs alone aren't enough to meet the daily vitamin D requirement, but they're a healthy, protein-packed way to help get there. Interestingly but not surprisingly, free-range eggs contain more vitamin D than conventional eggs.
CNET definitely doesn't advocate unprotected sun exposure, and there is a delicate balance to be struck between skin safety and vitamin D intake. Most people already don't get enough sun, and sunscreen prevents your skin from absorbing UV light, which is paradoxically responsible for both skin cancer and converting vitamin D into its active form.
You might wonder what a person is to do. Since the bulk of most people's vitamin D comes from casual exposure to the sun, taking a walk at lunch could provide for most of your vitamin D needs. In fact, one study done in the UK found that less than 15 minutes of midday sun exposure is enough to maintain sufficient blood levels of vitamin D in healthy adults.
Going for a walk at lunch can give you the best bang for your buck because midday sunlight is stronger than morning light but not as strong as afternoon light -- meaning you can go out and get your vitamin D with a lower risk of sun damage. Plus, you'll get some light exercise in and return to work feeling refreshed.
If you have a family history of skin cancer or other skin health complications that may be exacerbated by sun exposure, you should continue to follow any safety protocols given to you by your doctor.
Read more: Here's the Ideal SPF You Should Use This Summer, According to Experts