A taste of sunshine

Fri 20th March 2020
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Warmer, sunnier days help boost our vitamin D levels. But if the current climate means you need to self-isolate and can’t go outside, Seafish’s nutritional consultant Juliette Kellow comes to the rescue with her guide to how fish can boost your vitamin D levels.

Today marks the official start of Spring and for most of us, that usually signals the start of spending more time outside, enjoying the warmer days and longer evenings. But this year, life is different.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than upping the amount of time we spend outside, huge numbers of us are instead, very sensibly following Government advice and self-isolating, or practising social distancing to slow down the transmission of coronavirus and keep people safe. This means the whole nation is generally spending far more time indoors – and is likely to have to do so for the foreseeable future.

This ‘stay at home’ advice is, of course, essential, but there’s a possible side effect we all need to be aware of – and that’s the impact it may have on our vitamin D status.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s stored in the body and has many functions. At the top of the list, this vitamin helps the body absorb and use calcium and phosphorus, in turn helping to maintain normal teeth and bones1. Vitamin D also contributes to the normal function of muscles and the immune system2.

What makes vitamin D so special is we can make it in our body when skin is exposed to sunlight – why it’s sometimes called the ‘sunshine vitamin’. In the UK, this only happens in the warmer months – March to September – which when the sun’s rays are strong enough to make this vitamin.

As we enter spring and the start of the season when we’d normally, start to feel more sunshine on our bodies, we may not have the same opportunity to absorb the Vitamin D that we usually would. However, we can boost our intake of vitamin D by eating more foods rich in this nutrient. 

Prawn Fajitas

At the top of the list is oil-rich fish. Fresh, tinned or frozen, varieties such as mackerel, sardines, herring, kippers and salmon are all packed with vitamin D. Meanwhile, some non-oily fish such as tuna, basa and even oysters and red mullet contain some. Other food sources include eggs (1.6mcg vitamin D per egg) and foods that are fortified with this nutrient such as breakfast cereals, margarine, dairy products, soya products and orange juice. However, the form of vitamin D used for fortification isn’t as potent as the form found naturally in oily fish and eggs or when it’s made in the body.

At a time when many of us can’t enjoy being outside as much as we would like, the recommendation to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily, has never been more important. Putting fish on the menu is a simple and tasty way to boost vitamin D intakes – and you’ll also benefit from the many other nutrients they provide, including protein, other vitamins and minerals and omega-3 fats. Better still, tinned and frozen varieties are readily available, making life a little easier if you can’t get to the shops as often as you would like.

Plenty more D in the sea

See how fish, especially oily fish, can contribute to your intake of vitamin D. 

Fish

Vitamin D (mcg) per 100g

Red mullet

0.8

Oysters

1

Tuna canned in brine or oil

1.1

Basa (pangasius)

1.4

Anchovies canned in oil

1.7

Red snapper

2.3

Fresh tuna

3.2

Sardines canned in brine or tomato sauce

3.3

Sardines

4

Farmed salmon

4.7

Eel

4.9

Mackerel canned in brine

7.4

Rainbow trout

7.9

Fresh mackerel

8

Fresh kippers

8

Smoked mackerel

8.2

Wild salmon

8.6

Cold-smoked smoked salmon

8.9

Rock salmon

9.1

Red salmon canned

10.9

Hot-smoked smoked salmon

11

Sprats

13

Pink salmon canned

13.6

Pilchards canned in tomato sauce

14

Herring

19

 

Values are based on raw weight (unless otherwise stated)

 

References

1 EFSA Journal 2009; 7 (9): 1227 [19 pp.]. doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2009.1227

2 EFSA Journal 2010; 8 (2): 1468 [17 pp.]. doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1468

3 SACN (2016) Vitamin D and Health. Point 8.45

4 SACN (2016) Vitamin D and Health. Points 8.35–8.41.

5 NHS. Vitamin D. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/

6 EFSA Journal 2011; 9 (9): 2382 [18 pp.]. doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2382