“D” passes the test

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Because it’s a factor in the development and maintenance of bones, vitamin D has made headlines and news broadcasts across the country. But are Canadians at risk of being deficient in the “sunshine vitamin?” Your questions are answered right here.

For years, revealing research about vitamin D has encouraged Canadians to rethink their intake of this “sunshine vitamin.” And the reason is simple: In northern latitudes such as Canada, the sun’s rays aren’t strong enough in the fall and winter to stimulate vitamin D production in our bodies. As a result, many people risk missing out on some of vitamin D’s benefits.

And the health benefits are plentiful since vitamin D:

  • Is a factor in maintaining good health
  • Helps in the development and maintenance of bones, teeth
  • Helps in the absorption of and use of calcium and phosphorous

Calcium intake, when combined with sufficient Vitamin D, a healthy diet and regular exercise, may reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.

How to get it

You can get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight or from what you eat:

  • Sun exposure: Some of us can get the amount of vitamin D we need from a few minutes of unprotected sun exposure a day. How much sun we need depends on our age, skin colour and the strength of the sun’s rays. Remember that you don’t need to actually tan your skin to get the benefits and after a few minutes you should protect your skin from the sun.
  • Foods: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna provide substantial amounts of vitamin D. The Federal Government requires that cow’s milk, infant formula, margarine and soy or rice beverages be fortified with the sunshine vitamin. And check the nutrition labels on cereals, yogurt and orange juice to ensure they contain more than 20% of the daily value for vitamin D per serving.
  • Supplements: Vitamin D supplements are a good idea if you feel that you’re not getting enough from the sun and/or the foods you eat. While there are plenty to choose from, speak to your pharmacist for trusted advice on what to buy and how much to take.

Is there enough “sunshine” in your life?

Age and skin colour are just two of the factors in determining how much vitamin D you actually need. Generally, Health Canada recommends the following, with some stipulations:

Age in yearsAdequate intake values of vitamin DStipulations
0 to 1200 IU/dayWhile the adequate intake value for this age group is 200 IU/day, Health Canada recommends that all breastfed, healthy-term babies receive a daily 400 IU vitamin D supplement until they receive that amount from food or reach the age of one. This is to help reduce the risk of rickets. Note, however, that infants who are formula fed do not need a supplement since they receive the recommended amount of vitamin D from fortified formula.
2 to 50200 IU/dayHealth Canada recommends 200 IU per day, including pregnant and lactating women. Since two cups (500 mL) of fortified milk or soy milk contains that much, it shouldn’t be difficult to meet your daily requirement.
51 to 70400 IU/dayHealth Canada recommends that if you are over the age of 50, you should take a Vitamin D supplement of 400 IU per day as the food intake recommended in Canada’s Food Guide is not enough to achieve the adequate intake values.
Over 70600 IU/dayAs stated above, Health Canada recommends that if you are over the age of 70, you should take a Vitamin D supplement of 400 IU per day.

If you have dark skin: People with dark skin aren’t as efficient at producing vitamin D as individuals with lighter pigmented skin. In fact, some people with darker skin require 10 to 20 times more sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D from the sun’s rays. Getting 200-400 IU/day of vitamin D either from your diet or a multivitaminmineral supplement can help.

Too much of a good thing

Whether it’s through diet or supplements, there is a danger in overdoing your vitamin D intake. In fact, high doses of vitamin D can have potential adverse effects. Be sure your daily intake from food and supplements combined doesn’t exceed 2000 IU — 1000 IU for babies and young children.

If you have any questions about your vitamin D intake, see your healthcare provider for advice.


  • Alberta Government, Alberta Health & Wellness, Vitamin D: bone health and beyond, website
  • Canadian Cancer Society, Prevention: Vitamin D, website
  • Dieticians of Canada, Step Right Up to Healthy Eating, Vitamin D: what you need to know, website
  • Health Canada, Vitamin D and your health — backgrounder, website

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