Ask HE: How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

by in Ask the Experts, Healthy Tips, May 11, 2010

3-ounces cooked salmon = 795 IU (199%) of Vitamin D

All kinds of news reports are popping up saying we’re a vitamin-D deficient nation. Is this true? If so, what does it mean and what can we do about it?

Q: How much vitamin D do I really need and where can I get it?

A: It may difficult to meet your needs if you don’t eat certain foods. On the flip side, too much can be toxic.

As we discussed in our Nutrient to Know series, vitamin D is important for bone health (it allows for calcium to be absorbed). It’s critical for both children and adults to get enough of this nutrient to prevent the risk of bone diseases like rickets (in children) and osteoporosis (in adults). Vitamin D also helps protect against high blood pressure and certain forms of cancer. There’s also some research to support that when deficiencies of this vitamin are corrected in athletes, muscle strength and endurance improve. This doesn’t mean that more is better, just that when deficiencies are resolved, benefits are seen.

The good news is your body makes some of its own vitamin D with exposure to sunlight. The bad news — some people don’t spend enough time in the sun to make the vitamin D they need and it’s hard to come by in foods (especially if you don’t eat dairy). A blood test can determine if you’re meeting your needs. If you are falling short, a supplement may be helpful but be careful with the dosage – too much can cause nausea, vomiting, weakness and even heart arrhythmias due to too much calcium in the blood.

Food sources should be your first line of defense. Some naturally contain this vitamin while others are fortified (see list below).Vitamin D comes in two main forms. Vitamin “D2” is synthesized by plants and “D3” is the form humans produce when their skin is exposed to sunlight. You might find either listed on a food or supplement label.

Dietary Sources of Vitamin D

The daily recommendation for both children and adults is 400IU per day.

3-ounces cooked salmon = 795 IU (199%)
3-ounced canned tuna = 154 IU (40%)
1 cup of milk = 120 IU (30%)
1 cup of fortified orange juice = 100 IU (25%)
1 cup of fortified cereal = 40 IU (10%)
1 large egg = 20 IU (5%)

Bottom Line: You need vitamin D, but overdosing on supplements can have dangerous consequences. Try to get what you need with food. If you do have a deficiency, speak with your doctor or registered dietitian to establish a safe diet and supplement regimen.

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Comments (5)

  1. Jennifer says:

    When it comes to Vitamin D, you shouldn't scare people off by making comments about toxicity. All fat soluble vitamins and all minerals have risk of toxicity with adverse affects. Lay people may think that only vitamin D is potentially toxic. Vitamin D deficiency is so common among the population and the DRI and lab values that show vit D status are too low, with the new research that vitamin D is no longer only for bone health. My collegues and I take high amounts of vit D everyday and are trying to increase our serum levels to 50, instead of the 30 recommended. At 50, your body can store it and then use it more efficiently. I take 4000 IU per day and have no harmful effects. Everyone should check out the Vitamin D Council for more information (backed up by research) on vit D and how important it is to our health.

    • Melissa says:

      You do touch on some really important points. I am a RD, with a MS in clinical human nutrition. Based on my research (with some of it coming from the vitamin D council as well), I recommend people w/ def. to take upwards of 10,000 IU daily (after analyzing dietary intake). I also have pregnant clients taking 4,000-5,000 IU D3 daily – during pregnancy!! The point is that people are deficient! Vit D controls over 2,000 genes in our bodies, and to more correctly state, it's actually a pre-hormone. I agree with you that it is beneficial to EDUCATE lay persons rather than scare them w/ non-referenced "facts" and opinions. There is just too much misinformation about nutrition out there and I find myself re-educating my patients much of the time. You mention serum levels of vit D above 50, and I am working on getting mine above 75, then above 90. Vitamin D research is only beginning, and I am excited to have answers in the future to all of these "issues" we're talking about – namely, amounts to take orally vs. consumed in foods, UL while pregnant, adequate serum ranges for optimal health, etc. Thank you for being well informed before speaking!!

  2. With such common sources listed, it is still a paradox as to why America is said to be a Vit D deficient country. Almost every meal you can see has at least some minimal egg, milk or orange. Maybe the right quantity is not been consumed.

    Perhaps arrhythmia is one of the proofs that even organic substances can produce negative effects if taken in excessive quantities.

    Many of us think that its kids who need calcium most but from the post both kid and adults need 400IU per day.

  3. I hardly leave a response, but i did some searching and wound up here Nutrient to Know: Vitamin C | Healthy Eats – Food Network Healthy Living Blog. And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be simply me or does it seem like some of these responses appear like they are coming from brain dead people? :-P And, if you are posting on other sites, I’d like to keep up with everything new you have to post. Could you make a list of all of your public pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  4. It is in reality a nice and useful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this useful info with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

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