By Paige Green, Hy-Vee Dietitian on Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Get in that sunshine state of mind

We’ve all heard it: Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, but what exactly does it do for us? Grab your shades and bask in the sun while reading up on the health benefits of Vitamin D and why it’s so important for us.


Diving deeper into vitamin D – what is it?  

Vitamin D is one of the essential vitamins our body needs for optimal health. It is produced in response to our skin being exposed to sunlight, but can also be found in foods, both naturally and fortified. Low levels of vitamin D can put us at greater risk for infection, depression, as well as decreased bone health. One of the major roles Vitamin D plays is to help maximize the absorption and utilization of calcium, which is an important mineral for our bones and teeth.

RECIPE: Eat your vitamin D with this dijon-baked salmon

Don’t shun the sun – how much do we need?

The best way to receive vitamin D is through sun exposure. However, because of geographical location, seasonal changes, work schedules, and sensitivity to sunlight, many people are not able to achieve their daily recommend dose. It’s suggested that approximately 10-30 minutes of sunlight exposure between 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at least 2 times per week to the face, arms, legs or back without sunscreen usually leads to sufficient Vitamin D synthesis. After 30 minutes, it’s important to apply sunscreen if planning to stay outside.

GET OUTSIDE AND PLAY: Get 1 hour of physical activity every day

Finding the foods – where is vitamin D located in food form?

Foods that contain the most vitamin D include the flesh of fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. Small amounts can be found in beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and mushrooms. Fortified foods provide the most vitamin D in the American diet, which include both orange juice and milk. Take a look below to see how the incorporating these foods in your diet help reach your daily goal of vitamin D.  

  • Salmon: 3 ounces – 447 IU
  • Milk: 1 cup – 115 IU
  • Canned tuna in water: 3 ounces – 154 IU
  • Egg: 1 large (vitamin D is found in the yolk) – 41 IU
  • Fortified orange juice: 1 cup – 137 IU
  • Swiss cheese: 1 ounce – 6 IU


You, me, and vitamin D - how much is necessary?

The RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for vitamin D for those age 1-70 includes is 600 international units (IU).  If you suspect that you are deficient, or you’re simply curious to see where your vitamin D levels are, ask your doctor for a blood test at your next appointment. A value of > 75 nmol/L is desirable. Your doctor will prescribe an appropriate dosage for you if you are below this value.

As Iowans who experience winter for half of the year, it may be beneficial to supplement with vitamin D3. A dosage of 2,000 IU/day for adults and 1,000 IU/day for adolescents may be helpful. Have fun in the sun this summer and consider asking your doctor about drawing a vitamin D lab. It’s always good to double check and determine whether or not you’re deficient in the sunshine vitamin.

paigePaige Green received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Management at the University of Northern Iowa in 2012. She pursued her passion for nutrition at Iowa State University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics during the spring of 2015. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Paige truly sets out to educate individuals on finding a healthy balance in life and her passion for people and nutrition inspires clients of all ages. You can find Paige at the Windsor Heights or Grand Avenue (Des Moines) Hy-Vee store locations.