It’s winter in Canada. Shudder. The days are cold, the nights are cold, and it seems like the sun goes down at 3:45pm. No matter how hard you commit to a winter wellness routine, the lack of sunshine can make hibernation seem like a good idea. That lack of sunshine is also the reason Canadians need the benefits of vitamin D supplements - while they can’t bring the sun back, they can make your whole health a little sunnier.
What does vitamin D do?
Adorably nicknamed ‘The Sunshine Vitamin’, vitamin D primarily helps keep bones and teeth strong by helping the body absorb phosphorus and calcium from foods. But its power goes beyond just bone strength: tissues all over the body, including in the heart, colon, kidneys, brain, muscle and immune cells, have vitamin D receptors, which means they require vitamin D to function.
Vitamin D has also been (literally) under a microscope, with studies happening to determine what other effects it might have on overall health. While these studies are in their primary stages, things are ‘so far so good’, with higher blood levels of vitamin D being associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lupus, high blood pressure and even colorectal cancer.
How much vitamin D do Canadians need?
Depends on the Canadian!
Health Canada’s recommended daily intakes are as follows:
400IU* for infants
600IU for infants aged 1 to adults aged 70
800IU for adults over 70
Whereas Osteoporosis Canada’s daily allowances are slightly higher:
400-1,000IU for adults aged 19-40
800-2,000 for adults over 50 or people at risk of low vitamin D (those who are lactose intolerant, those with limited sun exposure, those with darker skin whose melanin doesn’t absorb as much UV radiation)
Plus, Osteoporosis Canada recommends year-round supplementation for all adults.
*IU = International Units
Why do Canadians need vitamin D supplements?
Vitamin D’s sunny nickname isn’t a coincidence: one of the ways we get it is from exposure to the sun. During the spring and summer months, heading outside around 12pm for 15 minutes in the sun can provide up to 1000 IU of vitamin D. But, that’s if you’re not wearing sunscreen (which you absolutely should and must be), if you’re lighter-skinned, and if you’re on the younger side of 50. So, that’s already a pretty narrow window. Which is why supplementation is necessary, especially during the winter and/or if you’re in the most northerly stretches of the Great White North.
During the dark days of winter, we’re actually getting less vitamin D. In fact, research by StatCan found that about 40% of Canadians were below the recommended level of 50nmol/L (nanomols/litre of blood) for healthy bones, compared to 25% in the summer, due to the lack of sunshine in winter and the sun’s lower position in the sky when it is around.
Our friends at StatCan also found that Canadians who didn’t take supplements had twice the rate of vitamin deficiency as the supplement takers. So, trust StatCan and get some supplements! Especially when vitamin D deficiency can cause everything from weaker bones and a weaker immune system to hair loss and lower moods. Progressive Nutritional’s Sunshine Burst chewable vitamin D softgels are little kid friendly, but perfect for moms and dads too.
What else can Canadians do to get more vitamin D in the winter?
While there aren’t a lot of foods that contain vitamin D, there are a few key players to add to your shopping list.
- Eggs (41IU/yolk)
- Salmon (447IU/3 oz)
- Tuna (154IU/3 oz)
- Cheddar Cheese (7IU/1 oz)
Besides these natural sources, you can also look out for beverages like non-dairy milk and orange juice which can be fortified with vitamin D.