For awhile, all the recommendations were to stay out of the sun. Now we know the importance of vitamin D and that it is generated through exposure to the sun. Your body must have vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. And too little vitamin D results in soft bones in children (rickets) and fragile, misshapen bones in adults (osteomalacia). You also need vitamin D for other important body functions. In addition, vitamin D deficiency has now been linked to cancer, depression, weight gain and other illnesses.
For example, research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, shows that those with the lowest vitamin D levels have more than double the risk of dying from heart disease and other causes over an eight-year period compared with those with the highest vitamin D levels.
So what is the right amount of sun? When the sun’s UV-B rays hit the skin, a reaction takes place that enables skin cells to manufacture vitamin D. If you’re fair skinned, experts say going outside for 10 minutes in the midday sun—in shorts and a tank top with no sunscreen—will give you enough radiation to produce about 10,000 international units of the vitamin. Dark-skinned individuals and the elderly also produce less vitamin D, and many folks don’t get enough of the nutrient from dietary sources like fatty fish and fortified milk.
Dr Mercola says that “For healthy people, moderate sun exposure (2 to 4 times a week for 15 to 20 minutes) is not a problem providing you don’t get sun burned. Always avoid a sunburn. As a general rule, the best time to get sun exposure to optimize your vitamin D levels is close to solar noon, which is 1 p.m. in states that use Daylight Saving Time. So, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. from March through October. November through February, you will not be making vitamin D if you live north of Atlanta, Georgia, and even at southern latitudes, you’ll only be making 10 to 20 percent of your summertime norm.
So what do we do in the winter? Good food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, especially the wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, mushrooms, eggs and vitamin D fortified foods such as milk (any milk will do–cow, soy, almond, or coconut milk are all fortified). If none of these appeal to you for dietary reasons, vitamin D supplementation may be the route for you. Be careful to research the supplement you take because there is known to be high levels of heavy metal contamination in some.