Updated: Jul 9
I have a confession to make—I take living in the Sunshine State for granted. I don’t even think about the number of days that sun brightens my daily outlook. My reality check came after chatting with friends in the Midwest who were so pumped up that the sun was shining. A sunny day is more than a flash in the pan when it comes to good mental and nutritional health.
Lack of sun has been shown to affect mood and can make you sad. This is not simply sad in the traditional sense but SAD as in Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder is the type of depression that occurs during the same season each year, most often during the winter months in areas where there is less sunlight. Depression may be caused by many things. Research has shown that light can affect depression and may be linked to the body’s biological clock. Experts also think that lack of light can interfere with serotonin, the brain chemical that affects mood.
Symptoms of SAD include trouble concentrating, feeling irritable and anxious, loss of interest in activities, carbohydrate cravings, weight gain, sleeping more and feeling tired. People affected by SAD are often treated with light therapy by exposure to bright light early in the day which seems to help set the body’s biological clock.
Sunlight will also affect Vitamin D levels. Your body can make Vitamin D, alias the sunshine vitamin, with exposure to sunlight. However, some people don’t make enough vitamin D from the sun. People who have a darker skin tone, are overweight, older, and those who cover up when they are in the sun can be challenged with vitamin D intake. This vitamin plays an essential role in health by helping the body absorb calcium and phosphorous, which forms and maintains strong bones. It works with calcium to improve bone health and decrease the chance of fractures. Vitamin D may also protect against osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer, and other diseases.
In addition to exposure to sunlight, you can get the vitamin from foods you eat and supplements. Typically, you may not get enough vitamin D from the foods you eat. Good sources include dairy products, breakfast cereals (both of which are fortified with vitamin D), and fatty fish such as salmon, swordfish, mackerel, oysters, catfish, trout, tuna and eel.
Vegetable sources of vitamin D include mushrooms that have been grown in the sun. Some branded mushrooms are grown in the sun and contain significantly higher levels of vitamin D. You can also place store bought mushrooms in the sun or under ultraviolet (UV) light once you bring them home to boost their Vitamin D content. Research has shown that you can increase the vitamin content of several varieties i.e., white button, shitake, portabella and more with light exposure.
I can’t bottle the sunshine and send it around the country, but in spotlighting the importance of vitamin D, I hope I’ve given you some insight on tactics to increase vitamin D intake ensuring a positive outlook and good nutrition throughout the year.
Take Away: Don’t take weather in your area for granted. Enjoy it and add foods to your diet that are higher in vitamin D and can help compensate for days that are short on sunlight.
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