Forty ng/mL? That is the level of vitamin D (also called serum 25(OH)D3) in my blood but what does it mean? Vitamin D is one of the most talked about nutrients and for good reason–along with calcium it is critical for building and maintaining healthy bones, but vitamin D is also one of the most confusing vitamins. We can get vitamin D three different ways:

  • through foods (although very few foods are good, natural sources)
  • through supplements (although it comes in different forms and researchers aren’t always consistent in their advice about which form is best)
  • through sunshine or the ultraviolet rays from the sun to be more precise (but SPF 8 or greater, heavy cloud cover, skin color, aging, and even the angle of the sun in winter blocks vitamin D from being made in sufficient amounts)

So what is an over-50 year old adult to do?

First, choose foods that contain vitamin D or foods that are fortified with vitamin D: salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are good sources because fatty fish contain this fat-soluble vitamin. Mushrooms (they are being exposed to ultraviolet light to make them good sources), milk, some but not all yogurts (read the label), many breakfast cereals and orange juice contain vitamin D. A recent study found that half of vitamin D intake comes from milk so that is a good place to start.

Second, consider supplementation; you might be getting some in your multi-vitamin and most contain 400 IU (IU stands for international units, the measure used in supplements). Vitamin D comes in two forms–D2 and D3 and most, but not all, experts recommend the D3 form because early research showed that D3 is more effective at raising vitamin D blood levels than D2. However, some research shows that both forms are effective at improving blood levels.

Third, consider getting some sensible sun–10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure twice a week can improve vitamin D levels. This recommendations is controversial because UV rays from the sun or tanning beds are tied to the million of skin cancer diagnoses each year.

Which leads us back to that 40 ng/mL blood level–is that good or bad? According to the lab report 40 is a healthy level, but trending more toward the insufficient end of the range. A controversial article in an international osteoporosis journal suggests that older adults need 800 to 1000 IU of vitamin D each day to reach the maximal blood levels of vitamin D.

Next time you go to the doctor and have blood drawn, ask for a vitamin D level–in the meantime, increase your intake of vitamin D from foods and if you supplement, look at the supplement label to determine how much vitamin D your supplement provides.

For more information check out Dr. Michael Holick’s website http://www.vitamindhealth.org/ or his new book, The Vitamin D Solution.

Nutrients for healing

After the recent blast of cold air that blanketed the country, including the deep south, I had planned to write about comfort foods and share my favorite soup recipes, but then I fractured my wrist and have been focusing on healing nutrition. Working with athletes for many years has given me a glimpse into the healing process, but I never had to experience it for myself.

Healthy bone needs more than calcium–it takes 17 different nutrients to make a strong bone. Let’s start with protein–a key building block of bone. Protein is needed for growth and repair so I am focusing on high quality protein that provides all of the essential amino acids–low-fat milk, yogurt, eggs, lean meat, and low-fat cheese. Soy protein is another complete source of protein, and beans, while not providing all 22 of the essential amino acids, has the highest protein content of vegetables.

Zinc and copper help heal bone by building collagen–the protein matrix for wound healing. Seafood, sunflower seeds, nuts, mushrooms, and wheat germ are all good souces of these trace minerals.

Two vitamins that are frequently overlooked in the healing process are vitamins A and C–vitamin A promotes bone growth and remodeling and vitamin C is also needed for collagen formation and bone repair. Citrus foods and dark red and green veggies and fruits provide both vitamins.

OK, we do have to recognize the superstar, calcium, since 99% of calcium is found in bone. I like low-fat dairy because not only does it give me needed calcium, but also vitamin D, protein, and vitamin A. Drink calcium-fortified orange juice for both calcium and vitamin C. A multi-vitamin mineral supplement doesn’t give you enough calcium, so take calcium carbonate or citrate every day. I prefer calcium citrate as it is well absorbed without food. The recent 2009 position paper from the American Dietetic Association recommends taking no more than 500 milligrams of calcium at one time, so split your dose.

My perfect bone healing meal? Lean beef fajitas with red and green peppers, mushrooms. and a side of black beans and citrus fruit salad. A big glass of cold low-fat milk–the margarita will have to wait until after the bone heals. Alcohol is not good for bones. Now, if only I could find a nutrient that would help me type faster with my left hand…..

Fit to Eat by Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RD

Happy New Year! For five years I wrote a weekly column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution titled “Fit to Eat.” As newspapers continue to shrink in size, scope, and importance, I will carry my column forward in this blog. As a nutrition professor and registered dietitian, I will write about food, nutrition, and fitness and hope my newspaper readers will find interest in my writing.

Now that it is 2010, here are my suggestions for the top 5 new year’s resolutions that you should not make.

  • Lose weight. This may be one of the most popular new year’s resolutions but it is also the easiest to break. This year aim for health, not weight loss. You might be surprised that by eating healthfully and making small changes to your activity patterns you might drop some pounds without even trying.
  • Join a gym in January. It is depressing to go the gym in January–the place is crowded, you have to wait for a treadmill, and the lines for the weight training machines are nuts. Wait until February when the crowds thin and the new year’s resolutions have faded.
  • Drink 8 glasses of water a day. Stop carrying around that gallon jug of water; there is nothing magical about drinking 8 glasses of water. All beverages count toward hydration–even caffeine-containing drinks, so stop counting water glasses.
  • Eat out less. Nothing wrong with eating out if you make the right choices. Start your meal with a broth-based soup and split an appetizer, salad, or entree to save money and calories.
  • Stop comparing your body to the models on the pages of health and fitness magazines–they are bad for your mental health. Every photo has been altered to show an image that is unattainable. Check out the DVD, “America the Beautiful” to get an insider’s look to our obession with beauty. This year learn to love your self.