How to help beat a vitamin D deficiency with food

Loads of us don't have the vitamin D we need. So what's to be done?

Britain's terrible weather stops most of us getting the vitamin D we need Vitamin D is a vitally important part of our diet. It keeps our bones and muscles strong and helps us maintain our energy levels. Lack of vitamin D can cause ricketts in children and a condition called osteomalacia in adults.

A whopping 20% of us in the UK may be deficient in vitamin D. There's an obvious reason for this, which is that Britain is a cursed isle, doomed to endure all the cruel rainclouds and stormy skies the gods of the Atlantic Ocean see fit to send our way.

Or to put more simply - our weather is rubbish.

In case that makes no sense at all, let me explain - humans gain most of their vitamin D through sunlight. In lots of parts of the world this is easy peasy. Step out of your door every morning, smile at the blazing sun, and gain every ounce of the D stuff you need on your daily commute to work.

Sunlight is our major source of vitamin D

Not so much in the UK. For most of the year we just don't have enough sunlight for most people to absorb and gain the amount of vitamin D that they need. The risk of deficiency gets higher if you spend all your days indoors, which is most of us who go out to work, have children to raise, housework to do or essays to write.

There's also a greater risk if you have darker skin, as the melanin in your skin blocks the absorption of the sun. BUT, you can't rest on your laurels if you're pale (I'm pale as they get and a card carrying member of team D-deficiency) - the suncream you use to prevent sunburn also stops you gaining as much vitamin D, and the same goes if you cover your skin when you're outside.

In other words, we're pretty much all in the same boat. The same cloudy, sunless boat. So what should we do about it?

Well, definitely don't stop wearing suncream. That's pretty important. There are a few foods, though, that can help you out.

The main foods are:

    • Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines (especially tinned in oil)
    • Mushrooms, especially those exposed to lots of sunlight or treated with ultraviolet
    • Egg yolk
    • Cheese
    • Milk and yoghurt fortified with vitamin D
    • Beef liver (sorry)

mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light are an especially good source of vitamin D

While these will all help add to the amount of vitamin D in your system, they might not do all the work. If you think you're at risk of a deficiency we recommend you go for a blood test and get a recommendation from your doctor, which might include dietary supplements.

In the meantime, though, start looking up some recipes that contain these ingredients, get eating, and drop by facebook or twitter - I'd love to hear your recommendations.