We’re learning more and more about the importance of vitamin D to our health. But how do we make sure we’re getting enough in low sunlight levels? In this article, we look at eating healthily as the weather turns cooler, seasonal foods, and how to maintain your vitamin D levels.
At Woodside Clinic, we’re passionate about our patients’ health. We’re here to treat you on the outside, but let’s think about how to be healthy on the inside, too!
It’s easy to pile on the pounds with chillier nights and darker days. Who doesn’t reach for the biscuits or cakes? And we all crave those stodgy, carb-loaded dishes!
But eating healthily doesn’t need to be a drag. There are plenty of options for comfort eating, while still getting a full dose of nutrients, vitamins and fibre.
Enjoy seasonal food
Seasonal eating has plenty of benefits. Food that comes from nearby producers is fresher than food that’s been shipped for miles. That means it retains more of its vitamins. Combine that with its lower environmental footprint and the benefits to local businesses, and you’ll be doing good as well as feeling good!
Let’s take a look at what’s in season over the autumn.
Many people think that mushrooms don’t offer much nutritional value. However, they’re a great source of micronutrients, including copper, selenium, potassium and riboflavin. These many nutrients combat aging, support the digestive and nervous system, boost immunity and benefit the cardiovascular system. They’re also important in bone and hormonal health, particularly useful for menopausal women.
Mushrooms are also one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D (although it’s in the form of vitamin D2, which is harder to absorb than vitamin D3). This is only the case where the mushrooms have been exposed to sunlight rather than grown in the dark. However, many retailers are now ensuring the mushrooms on their shelves are rich in this important vitamin. Don’t skimp on those fungi – go ahead and throw some mushrooms into your pasta sauces, soups and curries!
Added to that, mushrooms have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial properties. There’s even some research suggesting they could help fight Covid infection.
If you need some fungal food-for-thought, try this mushroom stroganoff recipe by James Martin.
Beetroots are a bit of a love-hate phenomenon. But they’re incredibly versatile. On warmer days, grate some raw beetroot into a salad or slaw. Slice or chop pickled beetroot for a flavour zing – try pairing with rare beef and parmesan in a carpaccio. Beetroot responds incredibly well to a slow roast – try adding a spoonful of marmalade to bring out their natural sweetness! Feeling adventurous? Include beetroot in your baking, with a super-moist beetroot-chocolate cake.
If you find the flavour of red beetroots a little too earthy, see if you can get hold of some golden beetroot – it has a subtler flavour. Or, if you have green fingers and a patch of garden, try growing some yourself!
Squash, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables
Autumn is famously the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ (thank you, Keats!). And squash, whether you prefer to think of them as fruit or vegetable, are in their prime.
Butternut squash and sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins A and C, zinc, sodium, and a host of other micronutrients. These can boost your immune system, maintain eye health, and support bone strength.
Plus, a good dose of fibre will also benefit your digestion, easing constipation. Fibre intake is also associated with reduced levels of bowel cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Now’s the perfect time to dig out your slow cooker, if you have one. Pile in chunks of root vegetables, stock and tomatoes in the morning, and come home to a bowl of warming comfort food. Throw in some red lentils, pearl barley, wholegrain pasta or beans – these will up the fibre content and make for a heartier dish.
Cabbage, kale and other greens
We associate calcium with dairy products, but cruciferous vegetables, such as kale and cabbage, are a great source. We’re all aware of the importance of calcium in keeping our bones strong, but it’s also essential for muscle and nerve function. Greens are particularly useful, therefore, if you’re vegan or dairy-intolerant.
Alongside calcium, greens offer iron, magnesium, zinc, fluoride, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus. They also contain vitamins C and K. Vitamin K helps wound healing and bone health.
Drinking water is relatively easy in the heat of summer. But it’s just as important to make sure you’re well hydrated in the autumn and winter months.
If you’re struggling to drink your daily glasses, look for alternate sources of hydration. This might be caffeine-free hot drinks, such as decaffeinated coffee, tea or tisanes. But food sources are also useful. A mug of soup or a delicious bowlful of ramen can go a long way to maintaining your fluid levels.
The importance of vitamin D
Vitamin D has long been known for its role in modulating calcium and phosphorus levels. These minerals are essential in bone and muscle health. But the role of this vital vitamin is increasingly recognised in many other aspects of our health and wellbeing.
Vitamin D functions to support our immunity, nerve function, and cognition. It also lowers inflammation levels in the body and controls cell growth rate. It helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and it improves our sleep.
That’s one essential vitamin, right?
Usually formed by the action of sunlight on our skin, vitamin D drops to insufficient levels when we don’t get enough sun. This happens between September and April. Certain groups are also at risk, such as those who can’t get outside much (e.g. elderly people or care home residents), people with darker skin, or those who keep their skin covered or wear sunscreen all the time.
As a useful guide, take a look at your shadow when you’re outside. If it’s longer than you, then there’s not enough sunshine to trigger that all-important vitamin D production in your skin.
So, if there’s not enough sunshine, can we get all our vitamin D needs from our diet? The best food source is fatty fish, but there’s also some vitamin D in egg yolk, cheese, and beef liver, as well as foods with added vitamins, such as fortified cereals.
Most people don’t get enough vitamin D from their diet, and around 20% of us are thought to be vitamin D deficient. Deficiency could put us at risk of high blood pressure, cancer, mental health disorders, and sleep problems.
It’s a good idea to use supplements to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D, especially in the winter months. There are different types – look for the more easily-absorbed vitamin D3, rather than D2.
Vitamin D dosage
The NHS recommends a daily intake of 400 IU (‘international units’). That’s equivalent to 10 micrograms. However, research suggests higher doses may be more beneficial – around 4000 IU (100 micrograms) or more a day. It’s possible that doses over 4000 IU can cause calcium levels in the blood to become too high, which can lead to kidney and heart problems. However, vitamin K2 pulls calcium from the blood into the bones, so adding a K2 supplement can reduce any risk of these negative effects if you’re taking more than 4000 IU daily.
Looking after your health
As the weather turns and the sun retreats behind the clouds, there are things you can do to make sure you stay fit and healthy from the inside out. Eat well, spend time outdoors, stay hydrated, and take a vitamin D supplement. Enjoy all the benefits that autumn can offer.
And don’t forget, we’re here to support you if you’re struggling with aches and pains, health concerns or injuries. Just pop in, give us a call, or use our online booking service. We look forward to seeing you!