Vitamin D

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vitaminVitamin D is a vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium. Calcium is a mineral that gives strength to your bones and teeth, and helps your nerves and muscles function properly. Vitamin D also helps your immune system function effectively, and reduces inflammation.

Why is vitamin D important?

The teenage years are the most important for bone growth and development. If you don’t get enough vitamin D during your teenage years, you may be at risk of stress fractures now and for osteoporosis when you get older. Osteoporosis is the development of weak bones that, over time, can break easily. Although osteoporosis generally affects older people, young women whose periods have stopped (for reasons such as eating disorders and low body weight), or use of steroids for certain chronic diseases, can also lead to osteoporosis.

How much vitamin D do I need?

It’s recommended that children and adolescents get at least 600 IU (international units), of vitamin D each day.

Where can I get vitamin D?

Believe it or not, you can get vitamin D from sunshine! The sun’s rays cause a chemical change to happen in your skin which makes vitamin D. When you are outside in the sun for about 10-15 minutes, you are able to get enough vitamin D. But be sure to remember to put on sunscreen after those few minutes, so that you don’t get a sunburn (which can increase your skin cancer risk).

Depending on where you live, the sun may not be strong enough to help your body make vitamin D during the winter months, so you must get it from food or supplements. The best food sources of vitamin D are fortified dairy products (most milk and some yogurts have vitamin D added. Fish rich in natural oils such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are also high in vitamin D. Although it’s great to get vitamins and minerals from food, taking a multivitamin is another way to get the right amount. If you do decide to take a supplement, check the bottle and make sure one tablet provides at least or 600 IU (international units).

Can I get too much vitamin D?

You can’t get too much vitamin D from the sun or from eating foods that are high in vitamin D. However, taking too much of a vitamin D supplement can be harmful. Research studies have shown that the maximum amount of vitamin D a teen should get is 4000 IU, and the minimum is or 600 IU.

Below is a table of some healthy foods that contain vitamin D:

Food Serving IUs Vitamin D
Fortified Milk 1 cup 127
Fortified Soy Milk 1 cup 114
Fortified Orange Juice 1 cup 142
Salmon (cooked) 3.5 ounces 360
Tuna (canned) 3 ounces 200
Shrimp (canned) 3 ounces 152
Egg (whole) 1 large egg 44
Kellogs low-fat granola with raisins 2/3 cup 40
Raisin Bran Cereal 3/4 cup 68
Total Cereal 1 cup 34
Kix Cereal 1 cup 32
Quaker instant oatmeal for women 1 packet 154

Is vitamin D deficiency (not enough) a problem for teens?

Yes. A research study done at Boston Children’s Hospital shows that 1 in 5 teenage boys and 1 in 4 teenage girls don’t get enough vitamin D.

Am I at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?

If you’re African American or Hispanic you could be at a higher risk for low vitamin D than if you are white. This is because skin that has a dark pigment can prevent most of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation from reaching the deeper layers of the skin where vitamin D is made.

Depending on where you live, it may be very difficult or impossible to get enough vitamin D during the winter months (because of the angle of the sun’s rays). To figure out if you live in one of these places, look at a map of the United States and imagine a line running between San Francisco and Philadelphia. If you live north of this imaginary line, it’s necessary for you to get your daily intake of vitamin D through food or supplements (during the winter). If you live south of this imaginary line but don’t get out in the sun much, you may need to take a supplement too.

Being active outside on a sunny day, drinking milk, and drinking or eating nutritious foods fortified with vitamin D such as fortified orange juice will give you enough of this important vitamin to keep your body fit and strong.