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Vitamin D in food
When you’re looking for healthy nutrition that provides the body with all the nutrients it needs for wellbeing, a basic rule of thumb is to eat a little bit of everything.
Vitamin D is one of the essential nutrients and an important substance for maintaining bone health, a fundamental aspect both for a growing body such as that of children and adolescents, due to bone tissue calcification processes, and for adults, especially older women, who with age can become more prone to bone fragility and osteoporosis.
Vitamin D contributes to the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the bones.
Vitamin D deficiency can also have an effect on other aspects of health. Indeed, this substance plays an important role in immune system regulation.
Unlike most vitamins found primarily in fruit and vegetables, foods of plant origin actually have the lowest vitamin D content.
Since food is not the main source of vitamin D in nature, the body’s requirement for this vitamin is ensured by adequate sun exposure, as this molecule is mainly produced by the human body. It all starts in the skin, where the synthesis of vitamin D3 (or cholecalciferol) occurs thanks to the action of ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation present in the sun’s rays. Cholecalciferol produced endogenously or taken in with food is first transported in the circulation to the liver and then to the kidneys, where it’s converted through two consecutive stages into calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D.
Today, however, it’s common to spend too little time outdoors, increasing the incidence of vitamin D deficiency, which can be associated with bone disorders and other health problems. Simple blood tests prescribed by your doctor are sufficient to investigate a low vitamin D status.
To remedy a deficiency, on your doctor’s advice, you can resort to supplementation with food supplements containing vitamin D.
Since it’s a fat-soluble vitamin, the presence of fat promotes its intestinal absorption. But what foods can it be taken from?
In terms of foods of plant origin, if we exclude certain fortified foods (such as some cereals), the list of foods rich in vitamin D is limited to mushrooms, although even for these vegetables the synthesis of the micronutrient depends on sun exposure.
The vitamin D found in mushrooms (ergocalciferol, also known as vitamin D2) is a different form than the one synthesised by the human body, namely vitamin D3.
The foods richest in vitamin D are undoubtedly those of animal origin, in particular fatty fish. The list of varieties richest in vitamin D includes swordfish, mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring and tuna. Salmon trout is also one of the best dietary sources of this nutrient.
More than fish, a derivative of fish is actually the most concentrated source of vitamin D: cod liver oil.
Fish is not the only foodstuff from which vitamin D can be taken. The short list of food sources of this substance also includes eggs and milk and its derivatives. Among the latter, it’s best to opt for yoghurt and whole milk. Some cheeses (especially fatty cheeses) also contain significant amounts of vitamin D.
As for eggs, vitamin D is concentrated in the yolk.
Finally, good news for chocolate lovers: cocoa can be a source of vitamin D. In fact, vitamin D is also present in cocoa butter. This means that not only dark chocolate, but also milk chocolate and even white chocolate can be a source of this valuable micronutrient.
Similar to mushrooms, the production of vitamin D in cocoa also depends on the action of UV rays, since ergocalciferol is synthesised in cocoa beans as they dry in the sun.
Finally, some vitamin D is also present in meat and offal. It is found, for example, in chicken (breast and thigh with skin), in pork fillet (especially when prepared with its fat) and in beef fillet and liver.