As more and more studies show that vitamin D is perhaps the most important nutrient in your diet (it is linked with bone health, cancer prevention, and lowered risks of heart disease, diabetes, and osteoarthritis), it's also becoming clearer that most Americans are not getting enough of this key nutrient.
"Vitamin D is a key component in helping the body respond to many different kinds of assaults and stimuli," Robert Heaney, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at Creighton University, told Cooking Light magazine. "In the absence of it, you're asking the body to defend itself with one hand tired behind its back."
To untie that hand, researchers recommend these three key sources for vitamin D:
1) Sunlight. Every time sun warms your skin, your body produces vitamin D. But be careful to limit exposure to avoid skin-cancer risks.
2) Food, particularly seafood rich in omega-3 fats, fortified foods, and some dairy products.
3) Supplements. Most multivitamins provide 400 IU of vitamin D. Be sure to select those containing it in the form of vitamin D3, also called cholecalciferol. How much do you need? That may depend on your age, according to health experts. Although the Institute of Medicine currently recommends 200 IU for adults under age 50, 400 IU for those age 51-70, and 600 IU for those 71 and above, a recent editorial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recommends a daily dose of 1,000 IU for people of all ages.