Vitamin D: Is the sunshine vitamin really a bright idea?

At some point in time, a good number of us likely jumped aboard the vitamin D train, thanks in part to the countless newspaper articles and eye-catching headlines that touted the praises of the “miraculous” but often overlooked vitamin. Not too long ago, we were told that in addition to maintaining strong bones, vitamin D could help reduce the risk of common chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and even cardiovascular disease.

If that wasn’t convincing enough, you certainly felt compelled to hitch a ride on the vitamin D train when it was reported that most North Americans were not consuming enough of the nutrient. Although it is true that our bodies can make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, the dark Canadian winters ultimately sealed the deal. Supplements became all the rage as throngs of worrisome, sun-deprived Canadians happily hopped on the vitamin D bandwagon.     

While vitamin D may have reached celebrity, even iconic status in the minds (and bones) of many, new research is suggesting that the old adage that what glitters isn’t always gold – or should I say golden - could very well be true, at least as far as the sunshine vitamin is concerned. Controversial research published by the U.S. based Institute of Medicine (IOM) claims that most healthy North Americans have normal vitamin D levels. This is because many of the foods we eat, such as milk, yogurt, and breakfast cereals are fortified with the vitamin during processing. As if that wasn’t shocking enough, the report also states that there is not enough evidence to support claims that vitamin D protects individuals from developing certain chronic illnesses. 

These results have re-ignited longstanding debates over the legitimacy of vitamin D recommendations. During vitamin D’s heyday, health professionals and health agencies such as Health Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society bumped up their recommendations to 1000 IU’s for all healthy children, adolescents, and adults. Some doctors in the U.S. even suggested getting 10,000 IU’s per day. Critics argued that this could send the wrong message and cause people to consume excessive vitamin D, particularly through supplements, which could be toxic.

Although more research needs to be conducted to validate the claims made by the IOM, the question still remains: just how much vitamin D is enough? While 1000 IU is likely sufficient for most, those who are vegan or do not eat dairy products, and those with certain illnesses, may need more. To achieve this, supplements are helpful but keep in mind that it is nutritionally possible to eat at least part of your way to vitamin D. For example, 1 cup of milk contains approximately 100 IU of vitamin D, 1 cup of fortified rice/soy beverage 80 IU’s, and 1 can of white tuna has 41 IU’s.

The vitamin D debate will likely continue, but this week’s “takeout” message is simple: A healthy diet and supplement can go a long way, so check with your healthcare professional to test your vitamin D status and diet before deciding how much supplement you should take.


About Renee Hughes:

Renee Hughes holds a Master of Health Science in Nutrition Communication from Ryerson University in Toronto. She also holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Food and Nutrition from Ryerson University and a Bachelor of Arts in Crime and Deviance from the University of Toronto. As a passionate nutrition and food writer, Renee has written articles for dietitians, non-profit agencies, and has developed community based nutrition workshops in Toronto. To contact Renee, please send an email to: 


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halldonna321, posted on December 2, 2014

I learned about Vit D by reading info on line. I beleive Vit D3 is the supplement best utilized by the body since it is a nonsynthetic form. Most doctors are not aware of what a therepeutic level is. My doctor said I only needed to sit in the sun for 15 minutes to get sufficient vit D. Vit D added to dairy products are not a good source because they are the synthetic form which is not as readily utilized form. Raw dairy products are by far the best quality of nutrients. Most of the population do not get enough sun exposure and are warned to avoid extended periods in the sun due to the risk of skin cancer. If we are loaded with toxins, we will be at risk for skin cancer as well as other serious illness and disease. When the body is relatively free of toxins, sun exposure won't be a problem. I believe sun exposure is good for mental and physical well being.

RebeccaO, posted on August 7, 2013

A simple blood panel will clear up if you need vitamin D. I just got my blood work in and I am really deficient. Normal levels are between 30 - 100 NG/ML. Insufficient is 20-30, and a deficiency is below 20. I'm at 18 and I live in sunny southern California. I am very fair skinned, I work in an office with no windows and I burn so easily I avoid the sun whenever possible. If you know you don't get a lot of sun, just get a regular blood test and you'll know. :)

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