Got the fall or winter blues? Here are a few simple steps you can take to boost your Vitamin D levels and elevate your mood, despite the gloomy weather.
The first day of winter (the winter solstice) is December 21st. As you probably know, the winter solstice marks the longest night of the year. If cold weather and short days have you feeling down, we’ve got good news: spring is the next stop on the seasonal voyage.
In the meantime, remember that feeling good starts with eating well and exercising regularly. In our opinion, we’re all going to be addicted to something, so try to choose good addictions rather than bad ones.
Gardening, eating delicious homemade meals, and exercising are some of the good addictions we try to stay hooked on. It beats the heck out of being addicted to TV and junk food.
In the cold, dreary days of fall and winter, one of the most important thing you can do to battle winter blues and keep yourself feeling great is to get lots of vitamin D, aka the “superstar vitamin.”
Shockingly, up to 40% of Americans may be Vitamin D deficient. Chronic Vitamin D deficiency can impact more than your mood… It can potentially lead to hundreds of different disorders and diseases, including bone softening, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and diabetes.
How much Vitamin D do you need?
Until recently, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for Vitamin D was 600 IU per day. Not that much.
Now, many nutrition scientists and medical organizations say that a healthy adult should be getting far more than 600 IUs of Vitamin D per day. For instance:
- the Vitamin D Council recommends that adults take 5000 IU of vitamin D3 daily,
- the Institute of Medicine (IOM) established 4000 IU daily as the upper level of intake,
- the Endocrine Society Practice Guidelines state that up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily is safe for most adults.
Further complicating matters is that factors such as age, Body Mass Index (BMI), genetics, and other health factors means that recommended daily intakes of Vitamin D might vary significantly by person.
No, don’t get your Vitamin D from pills
Just go to the store and get some vitamin D pills, right? No!
Despite the fact that we all grew up believing vitamin pills were the foundation of good health (thanks to million dollar marketing campaigns), modern scientific research has found that, with rare exception, vitamin supplements have no health benefits or even worse: actually cause harm. Vitamin D pills are no exception.
If you’d like to read more on the bad science and false claims behind vitamin supplementation, here’s a brilliant article in The Atlantic about Linus Pauling, the man credited with starting the vitamin craze in the 1970s. Pauling’s voracious vitamin consumption (and public promotion thereof) likely caused his and his wife’s deadly cancer. Unfortunately, despite the lack of efficacy and negative health effects, vitamin supplements continue to be a multi billion dollar industry in the US today.
As Harvard Medical School says, for optimal health you should get your vitamins and nutrition from real, whole foods, NOT from pills.
We could write an entire article or book about the reasons we think vitamins don’t work – hint: it’s the same reason that chemical and mineral fertilizers don’t result in healthy soil and healthy plants in the long run.
How to make or eat your own Vitamin D
“Vitamin D” is actually a broad term that refers to a range of different secosteroid compounds. The vitamin D compounds that matter most to humans are:
- D2 (ergocalciferol) – from non-animal sources (plants, fungi, etc);
- D3 (cholecalciferol) – from animal sources or sunlight.
Vitamin D3 from sunlight
Thankfully, your body can actually make its own vitamin D. When you’re outdoors without sunscreen on, the sun’s energy turns a chemical in your skin into Vitamin D3, which is carried to your liver then to your kidneys, where it is transformed into active vitamin D3 utilized by your body.
How much Vitamin D3 can your skin make?
If you’re a light-skinned person who walks outside in the summer (without sunscreen on) wearing shorts and a tank top, your body will be able to make about 1,000 IU of vitamin D per minute of full sun exposure. So, after 7-10 minutes, you’ll have all the vitamin D you need for the day (7,000 IU).
If you’re wearing sunscreen, elderly, or have dark skin, you won’t produce as much vitamin D in the same time period.
Vitamin D3 and D2 from food
How do you get Vitamin D in the fall and winter?
If you live north of Atlanta, we’ve got bad news: there’s no way your body can produce enough vitamin D in the winter from sun exposure alone. The sun simply isn’t high enough in the sky for enough UVB rays to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere — and there’s a good chance your skin is covered with warm clothes anyway.
If you can’t take supplements or get enough sun exposure, how do you get enough Vitamin D in the winter to stay mentally and physically healthy?
Your diet. No, we don’t mean a fad diet, we mean eating real, whole foods.
Some foods are particularly high in vitamin D. Wild caught salmon is one of the highest sources of D3 available (interestingly, farm raised salmon has 75% less D than wild caught).
Our personal favorite source of vitamin D3 is the eggs from our ducks. Similar to wild salmon, ducks and chickens raised outdoors on healthy diets produce eggs that have 4x more D3 than standard eggs. As we’ve written about previously, duck eggs are even more nutritious than chicken eggs.
(No, not that kind of mushroom.) You can also get huge amounts of Vitamin D2 from mushrooms. In fact, delicious shiitake mushrooms are one of the most vitamin D rich mushrooms available.
Read our How to grow shiitake mushrooms guide if you’d like to grow these delicious, medicinal mushrooms at home.
Here’s an amazing “hack” you can use to drastically boost your vitamin D intake: place dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms gill side up in the sun for a day, and you can increase the Vitamin D in your shiitake mushrooms from 100 IU/100 grams to 46,000 IU/100 grams. (For reference, one serving of shiitakes is 145 grams.)
That will get your batteries charged up!
Now go forth and conquer your fall or winter blues using whole foods, sunshine, and Vitamin-D charged gourmet mushrooms!