While eating a varied, nutrient-dense diet is the primary way to obtain essential nutrients, vitamin D is a notable exception to this rule, especially for those of us living at Northern latitudes. Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D so it is the one vitamin that is commonly recommended in supplemental form. Infants need at least 400 IU daily while children, teens and adults require 600-1000 IU each day. Fortified foods such as milk and alternate milks, have around 100 IU per 8 oz while a whole egg supplies 44 IU. Canned salmon (which includes bones) is one of the highest food sources, contributing 500-700 IU per 3 oz. serving.
Nicknamed the "sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is the only vitamin that can be manufactured from the reaction of ultraviolet rays with a type of cholesterol present in skin. At latitudes above 33 degrees, it becomes difficult to make an adequate amount, especially in winter. Portland, Oregon is located at about 45 degrees latitude (and surprise, it rains a lot here!). The use of sunscreen and darker skin also inhibit the UV rays responsible for making vitamin D.
I sometimes feel like a broken record with my patients – emphasizing the need for supplemental vitamin D for the entire family. We see a lot of low and borderline vitamin D levels among the kids and teens in our clinic. With the onset of the current Covid-19 pandemic, I have received a lot more questions about the use of vitamin D. Some early studies indicate that patients with Covid-19 fare better if they have adequate vitamin D stores. To be clear, vitamin D will NOT prevent or treat covid-19! But having adequate stores is always a good idea, given the many functions of vitamin D in the body.
What it Does
Vitamin D works as a partner with calcium in strengthening bones and is especially important during infancy and childhood when bones are at their peak development. Vitamin D also plays a role in muscle strength, immune function and the reduction of inflammation.
In general, breastfed infants should receive a 400 IU drop while children over the age of one will ideally take a supplement with at least 600 IU of vitamin D. I frequently recommend 1000 IU for older kids and teens. When treating deficiency, higher doses are needed. If you have questions about vitamin D and your child, talk to one of our pediatricians or registered dietitian.
Written By Connie Liakos, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD