In Part 1 of this series you learned about the history of, and daily recommendations for, the ‘sunshine vitamin’. Read on to learn more about the different sources of vitamin D to help your child get enough for healthy, strong bones.
Sources of Vitamin D
Did you know that your skin actually makes vitamin D when exposed to the UVB rays in sunlight? The amount of sun exposure required to make enough vitamin D varies greatly and depends on: the strength of the UVB rays, the amount of time spent in the sun, the amount of skin exposed, your age and skin colour. Canadian children are at risk for not getting enough vitamin D in the fall and winter months when the sun’s rays are weakest and people spend most of their time indoors and covered up.
While sun exposure is an important source of vitamin D a little goes a long way. Because the sun’s rays can damage children’s sensitive skin, parents are advised to practice sun safety for children. Sun avoidance, protective clothing and sunscreen will all help to prevent sunburns and skin damage.
Vitamin D is found in very few foods. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna are the highest natural sources. Smaller amounts are also found in egg yolks. To help protect against bone disorders, vitamin D is also added to cow’s milk, margarine, fortified plant-based beverages (e.g. soy or rice) and some types of orange juice. Here’s a link to a list of food sources of vitamin D. Health Canada recommends that all children have 500 ml (2 cups) of milk or fortified soy beverage each day to help them get enough Vitamin D. Even so, it’s still difficult to get the entire recommended daily amount of vitamin D from food sources alone.
Vitamin D is also available in inexpensive supplemental drops or pills. Though cod liver oil is a rich supplemental source of vitamin D it is not recommended for children because it contains very high levels of vitamin A—well above the recommended limit. Standard fish oil supplements are not significant sources of vitamin D unless they have been fortified with vitamin D.
Health Canada advises that exclusively and partially breastfed infants have a supplement of 400 IU of vitamin D each day. Infant formula is fortified with vitamin D and infants who are exclusively bottle fed do not need a vitamin D supplement.
Parents who are concerned that their child may not be getting enough vitamin D can speak with one of the Registered Dietitians at HealthLink BC by dialing 8-1-1, or ask their doctor or pharmacist.
Vitamin D Supplements for Breastfeeding Babies
HealthLink BC: Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D
Statistics Canada: Vitamin D Blood Levels of Canadians
Dietitians of Canada: Vitamin D: What You Need to Know
The Globe and Mail: The Vitamin D Dilemma: How Much Should We Be Taking?