As Daylight Ends, Please Pass the Vitamin D

When Daylight Saving Time officially comes to an end this Sunday, Nov. 2, it’s gonna be a whole lot darker around here.

The egg yolk is on a short list of Vitamin D-rich foods. (Kim O'Donnel)

Once we collectively reverse the hands of time on our alarm clocks, we lose an hour of precious sunlight at supper but get it back (at least for a while) at breakfast.

Here in Seattle, the conversation has turned to the rapidly diminishing light, the marvels of something called a dawn simulator, and most interestingly for this native east coaster, the importance of Vitamin D.

As kids growing up in the '70s, we were told to drink our Vitamin D-enriched milk because it makes our bones and teeth strong. These days, scientists say the benefits are much more far reaching, protecting us from a host of diseases, including diabetes, osteoporosis and certain kinds of cancer.

Was there anything other than milk, I wondered, that I could add to my diet to keep the Vitamin D levels in good standing? After all, sunlight, which is in short supply for the next several months, was not an option.

This of course, led me to my next question: How much do I need, anyway? The recommendations vary greatly, from 200 I.U. (International Units, a unit of measure you’ll find on vitamin labels) to 2,000 I.U per day. Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that it was doubling its Vitamin D recommendation for children, from 200 I.U. to 400 I.U. (The Institute of Medicine has long recommended 200 units for anyone up to 50 years of age)

As I discovered, the list of Vitamin D-rich foods is short; other than the aforementioned milk (which is fortified), the choices include oily fish (salmon, tuna and mackerel), egg yolks, beef liver, fortified cheese, orange juice and breakfast cereals and the dreaded cod liver oil, the first place contestant clocking in at 1,360 I.U. per tablespoon.

For vegans, this list is practically of no use -- particularly for those in northern, minimally sunny environs. That means being diligent about taking a daily supplement -- and perhaps eating sun-kissed mushrooms. Apparently, when exposed to sun, mushrooms become Vitamin D magnets. Has anyone seen -- or tried -- the packaged portobellos from Dole or Sun-Bella, just out on the market this year? The claim is that you can get your daily Vitamin D quota from eating a few of these. If you know anything, pipe up in the comments area.

And if you've got any other nifty Vitamin D tricks, please say so.

Today at 1 ET, join me for this month's What's Cooking Vegetarian .

By Kim ODonnel |  October 30, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Wellness
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Why is sunlight not an option? If I recall correctly (and this depends on how light or dark your skin is), you only need about 20 minutes of sunlight exposure to face and hands to get your daily fix of vitamin D.

I do this less here in Arlington than I did when I lived in Rochester, but I find something to do outside. It's easier in Rochester because 20 degrees with snow is much easier to tolerate for me than the 30 degrees and rain that we get here. None the less, going for a walk or run, shoveling, skiing (cross country or downhill), skating, snowball fight, sledding, should do the trick

Keep in mind that your body stores vitamin D, so if it's brutal out, don't worry about it, catch up the next day.

Posted by: ArlingtonSMP | October 30, 2008 10:28 AM

I challenge you to "responsible moderate" tanning in a professional salon that has certification of all staff members to boost your Vitamin D over the winter months.

Posted by: uv4life | October 30, 2008 10:33 AM

I think the problem is that winter sunlight, particularly the further away from the equator you are, is not strong enough. I did a quick Google search; you can find out more by typing "sunlight vitamin D winter."

Posted by: GirlScoutMom | October 30, 2008 11:33 AM

By the way, ArlingtonSMP, I'm from upstate NY, too, and I totally agree with you about the temperatures! 30 degrees numb you a little and it's not so bad, but 40 & raining goes right through you and you just keep feeling it. I miss the snow, too.

Posted by: GirlScoutMom | October 30, 2008 11:36 AM

I have found the winter to be very hard with the decrease in sunlight. With all the news about vitamin D I have been looking for alternatives. Diet and more sun was not an option for my family. I work 40+ hours a week in an office and my 2 year old doesn't eat a very good diet. We all drink milk but we buy organic in the glass bottles and it doesn't have vitamin D added. I found a liquid vitamin D3 supplement made by a company called WELLESSE and we only have to take two tsp. per day. So far it is working and easy to take every day. I give my 2 year old a 1/2 tsp. and she loves the taste of it. In my opinion it is much easier than trying to eat fish or take cod liver oil. I was told it will be in Walgreens stores soon and online stores.

Posted by: Lori4magnets | October 30, 2008 11:40 AM

Kim, seasonal affective disorder is no joke in Seattle--many of the people I knew there were being treated in some fashion for it. Transplants from the East Coast are most at risk because they think because we have seasons, the darkness and cold of Seattle won't affect them. Actually, our winters are quite sunny back east and Seattle's lack of light can send you quickly into a spiral of depression. No foods will help, except perhaps strong coffee!

Posted by: Newhavener | October 30, 2008 3:42 PM

For vegans, most (but not all) soy/rice/whatever milks are fortified with vitamin D just like cow's milk is.

Posted by: mollyjade | October 31, 2008 10:22 AM

Hi all, my name is Bart Minor and I'm the President and CEO of The Mushroom Council.

What you’re reading is true. White Button Mushrooms in particular naturally contain 4% of the daily value of vitamin D according to the USDA nutrient data bank. In fact, they’re the only fruit or vegetable with vitamin D. Other mushrooms also may contain at least this much if not more (I was just sent a maitake mushroom label with over 300% dv of D!). Read the label or contact the supplier to see if they can tell you how much D is in theirs.

As you noted, vitamin D is especially important for people who wear sunscreen, have darker skin or live in colder climates. In fact, research shows that only 10 percent of Americans have adequate levels of vitamin D. If you have any other questions about how to incorporate mushrooms into your diet, I'd encourage you visit us at

Posted by: bartmushroom | October 31, 2008 5:19 PM

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