Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, crucial for growing healthy muscles and bones. Find out why you should supplement children's and babies diets in winter with a safe amount of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Our bodies create vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when we're outdoors which is why you might notice your nails strengthening and hair looking healthier in the summer.
From late spring until the end of September most people are generally able to make all the vitamin D they need from sunlight. Sunscreen doesn't affect vitamin D production so it remains important to use a high enough factor sunscreen to protect against sun damage, especially on children's and babies' delicate skin.
Children from the age of 1 year and adults need 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day. This includes pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people at risk of vitamin D deficiency (such as those with dark skin and the elderly). During the autumn and winter it's unlikely that those of us living in the Northern hemisphere can get this amount from sunlight exposure so UK government advice is to take a daily supplement.
Babies from birth to 1 year of age should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year if they are breastfed or formula-fed and are having less than 500ml a day because infant formula is already fortified with vitamin D.
Low vitamin D levels can cause muscle weakness, fatigue, aches, bone pain and even deformities, although rickets is now very rare in the UK. Its also linked to low mood and depression.
There are a small number of foods containing naturally occurring vitamin D. They are all animal sourced and include egg yolks, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, red meat and liver. Sardines on toast, boiled egg and soldiers, grilled salmon and noodles are all child friendly and quick to prepare ways to encourage a vitamin D rich diet.
Other Vitamin D rich foods suitable for vegans and vegetarians are fortified breakfast cereals, spreads and non dairy milk which can help maintain healthy vitamin D levels and keep bones and muscles strong.