Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is essential for good health. It is produced naturally by your body in response to sunlight, which is the easiest and most reliable way to get this important vitamin. While Vitamin D has a few significant roles, its main benefit is to help your body absorb calcium and phosphorus, minerals essential for strong bones. It also boosts your immune system to ward off any viruses or bacteria and supports your muscles and nerves. The amount of vitamin D that people need depends largely on age and environmental factors. About 10 to 30 minutes of sun exposure 3x a week is all most people need. However, if you're stuck in the middle of winter like most of us currently are in the northern hemisphere, with a limited amount of daytime hours or sunlight, it makes it harder for the body to produce. Clouds, smog, and sunscreen are all factors that can reduce the amount of absorption. Few foods contain vitamin D naturally, and most are meat-based. So as a plant-based eater, how can you get enough vitamin D with limited sunlight exposure? Luckily there are some great fortified options on the market. Fortified options include plant-based milk, cereals, and orange juice. Mushrooms, such as shiitake, morel, oyster, and chanterelle, can also contain vitamin D; however, the amounts are largely dependant on how they are grown, so they are usually not considered a reliable main source. If you're concerned about your vitamin D levels, it's important to speak with your health care practitioner. A simple blood test is all that is needed to determine one's vitamin D levels. Deficiency symptoms include weak bones, depression, and a weakened immune system. The good news is that getting enough Vitamin D is possible on a plant-based diet. By being aware of the foods you are eating, you can easily meet your needs using the fortified options listed above. If not supplementation may be a good idea if you’re not able to spend much time in the sun.
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