The Kind Life is a community around Alicia Silverstone and The Kind Diet where friends, doctors, experts in green living, and members share vegan tips.

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kind classics: the deal with vitamin d

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I’ve always assumed that I get all the Vitamin D I need on a daily basis just from being out in the sun. Of course, too much exposure can be harmful, but living in sunny California gives me the chance on most days to soak up the sun while I’m out taking a walk, gardening or getting to and from my car. Sometimes I’ll just stop what I’m doing, open my arms, take a deep breath and really feel the sun on my face for a few relaxing minutes.

It wasn’t until some of you Kind Lifers inquired about Vitamin D recently, that I decided to dig deeper into this subject and see if what I’d always thought was actually the truth. Do those short bursts of sunlight exposure really supply enough Vitamin D to those of us who live and work indoors in large, polluted urban areas? And, if not, what’s the deal with supplements? Are they helpful? And, if they are, what’s the proper dosage? For these and other answers, I decided to seek out perspectives from Dr. Neal Barnard and Christina Pirello, both of whom walked me through the whole topic with their usual brilliance and clarity. Here’s what I learned:

For starters, let’s explain what Vitamin D is. In simple terms, it’s a fat-soluble vitamin that our body manufactures when it’s exposed to the sun. It has a number of purposes, but Vitamin D’s main job is to maintain the right balance of calcium and phosphorus in our blood, help us to absorb enough calcium in our bones and, in general, to work with other vitamins at keeping our bones healthy and strong.

We don’t have to roast in the sun all day long to get a healthy daily dose of Vitamin D, but we do have to get a good 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight to even approach our minimum requirements. But before you go thinking that a few trips back and forth to your car will do the trick, keep in mind that this minimum exposure time will generally be higher for those of us who live in cities and areas where pollution, cloud cover and other obstructions can block the vast majority of the sun’s UV rays.

If you’re getting out and exercising in the sun each day, you’re taking a big step towards meeting your daily Vitamin D requirement in addition to all the other health benefits that regular exercise offers. But, the sad truth is that a lot of us live in situations and areas where our exposure to sun is limited. Our access to sunshine can be affected and compromised by everything from latitude to climate to pollution to even our work schedules. In some cases, physical characteristics like old age, darker skin tones or very young breast-feeding infants have more difficulty getting enough Vitamin D as well. Because of any combination of these and other factors, some of us Kind Lifers might not get as much Vitamin D as we should. If you think this might be the case with you, it’s easy to have your doctor give you a simple blood test that can screen you for any vitamin and mineral deficiencies, including Vitamin D.

The point is, each of us has different individual needs. For me, a plant-based diet and healthy lifestyle fulfills most of the nutritional requirements that others might use vitamin supplements to meet. Most people should get about 1,000 – 2,000 IU of Vitamin D per day, but, if you belong to one of the more potentially Vitamin D-deficient groups mentioned above, you may benefit from taking supplements.

As always, it’s best to figure out your personal supplemental dosage in consultation with your doctor, based on your specific deficiency levels. Or you can skip the blood test and take a small dosage of Vitamin D if you think you might need it, since excess Vitamin D is not likely to do much harm other than making your liver work a little harder than necessary. If you do take supplements, my sources tell me that the plant-based supplement D-2 is far more preferable and just as effective as D-3 which is not vegan.

How do you guys get your vitamin D? Do you have any favorite vitamin D-rich kind foods?

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