The tricky world of vitamin D, Superstar nutrient  

The tricky world of vitamin D, Superstar nutrient  

What parents should know about vitamin D

Vitamin D is a superstar nutrient, playing a crucial role in keeping our bodies healthy and strong. But what exactly is it, and why is it so important, especially for growing kids? And it's a little crazy that some kids don't get nearly enough, like those with allergies and issues of increased weight. 

So, let's dive into the world of Vitamin D, its sources, benefits, and how parents can ensure their children get what they need of this vital nutrient.

What Is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is not a single vitamin, but actually a group of fat-soluble vitamins, with two primary forms: Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). The most important of these for humans is Vitamin D3. 

The sun connection

Sunlight is the most natural and significant source of Vitamin D for those who have lighter skin. When that skin is exposed to UVB rays from sunlight, it produces Vitamin D. This is why it's called the "sunshine vitamin." But how does this process work?

When ultraviolet (UVB) rays from the sun hit your skin, a substance called 7-dehydrocholesterol is converted into pre-Vitamin D3. Pre-Vitamin D3 then transforms into active Vitamin D in your liver and kidneys. This active form of Vitamin D is what your body needs for various important functions.

While most of us, get some Vit D from the sun, darker skin, sunscreen, and wintry weather all lessen the effectiveness of those UVB rays. So, it may not create enough Vitamin D for lots of people—and then we need other sources.  

Sources of vitamin D

  1. Sunlight: As mentioned, the sun is a natural source of Vitamin D. Spending some time outdoors in the sunlight each day, with uncovered skin, can help your child's body produce Vitamin D. So some recommend 15-20 minutes outside before putting on sunscreen to protect against skin cancers. However, factors like your location, time of day, and skin color can affect how much Vitamin D your child's skin can make.
  2. Diet: Some foods are naturally rich in Vitamin D, including fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Other sources include egg yolks, cheese, and beef liver. Many foods are also fortified with Vitamin D, such as milk, cereal, and orange juice. From the NIH.

per serving
International Units (IU) serving 
Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon34.01,360
Trout (rainbow), farmed, cooked, 3 ounces16.2645
Salmon (sockeye), cooked, 3 ounces14.2570
Mushrooms, white, raw, sliced, exposed to UV light, ½ cup9.2366
Milk, 2% milkfat, vitamin D fortified, 1 cup2.9120
Soy, almond, and oat milks, vitamin D fortified, various brands, 1 cup2.5-3.6100-144
Ready-to-eat cereal, fortified with 10% of the DV for vitamin D, 1 serving2.080
Sardines (Atlantic), canned in oil, drained, 2 sardines1.246
Egg, 1 large, scrambled**1.144
Liver, beef, braised, 3 ounces1.042
Tuna fish (light), canned in water, drained, 3 ounces1.040
Cheese, cheddar, 1.5 ounce0.417
  1. Supplements: In some cases, your child's doctor may recommend Vitamin D supplements, especially if they have a deficiency or if they don't get enough from sunlight and diet alone.

Why vitamin D matters

No matter the source, Vitamin D is crucial for your child's health:

  1. Bone health: Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for strong and healthy bones. Without enough Vitamin D, your child's bones may not develop properly, leading to conditions like rickets, which can cause bone deformities and weakness.
  2. Immune system support: Vitamin D plays a role in boosting the immune system, helping your child fight off infections and illnesses.
  3. Mood and mental health: Some studies suggest that Vitamin D may have a positive impact on mood and mental health. It's thought to help reduce the risk of depression and other mood disorders.
  4. Heart health: Vitamin D is believed to have a protective effect on the heart by regulating blood pressure and reducing inflammation.
  5. Healthy skin: Vitamin D may contribute to healthy skin by helping to prevent conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
  6. Muscle function: It's also important for muscle function and may help prevent muscle weakness.
  7. Cell growth: Vitamin D plays a role in cell growth and may have a protective effect against certain types of cancer.

Signs of vitamin D deficiency

What can happen if your child doesn't get enough D. A deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to various health issues, including:

  1. Weak bones: As mentioned earlier, a lack of Vitamin D can result in weak, brittle bones, which can lead to conditions like rickets or osteoporosis in adulthood.
  2. Slow growth: Children with a Vitamin D deficiency may grow more slowly than other kids.
  3. Weakened immune system: A lack of Vitamin D can make your child more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
  4. Mood changes: Some children with low Vitamin D levels may experience mood swings or symptoms of depression.
  5. Fatigue: Your child might feel more tired than usual.
  6. Muscle pain: Muscle weakness and pain can be symptoms of a Vitamin D deficiency.

How much vitamin D does your child need?

The recommended daily intake of Vitamin D can vary based on age and specific health needs. Here are the general guidelines:

  1. Infants: Babies need about 400-1,000 international units (IU) of Vitamin D per day, starting from birth (and actually before).
  2. Children and teens: Most kids need around 600-1,000 IU of Vitamin D daily. However, this can vary, so it's essential to consult with a healthcare provider for specific recommendations.
  3. Pregnant and breastfeeding women: Pregnant and breastfeeding women need more Vitamin D – around 600-2,500 IU per day, depending on individual circumstances, with  pregnant moms needing to supply their babies as well. 

Ensuring your child gets enough vitamin D

Now that you understand the importance of Vitamin D and where to find it, here are some practical tips for ensuring your child gets enough:

  1. Sensible sun exposure: Encourage your child to spend time outdoors, but be mindful of the sun's harmful effects. Allow them to play outside when the sun is not at its strongest, usually in the morning or late afternoon. Don't forget sunscreen to protect their skin from harmful UV rays.
  2. Dietary choices: Include Vitamin D-rich foods in your child's diet, such as fatty fish, eggs, and fortified dairy products. If your child has dietary restrictions or preferences, consider supplements as recommended by their healthcare provider.
  3. Regular check-ups: Schedule regular check-ups with your child's doctor. They can monitor their Vitamin D levels and provide guidance on supplements if needed.
  4. Be mindful of skin color: People with darker skin may need more sun exposure to produce sufficient Vitamin D because melanin in the skin reduces its production. Discuss this with your healthcare provider if applicable.
  5. Breastfeeding moms: If you're breastfeeding, make sure you're getting enough Vitamin D yourself because it can be passed on to your baby through breast milk.


Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in your child's growth and overall health. By understanding the importance of Vitamin D, recognizing the signs of deficiency, and taking steps to ensure your child gets enough through sunlight, diet, and supplements when necessary, you can help them thrive and enjoy the benefits of this sunshine vitamin. Remember, a healthy and active childhood starts with the right nutrients, including Vitamin D!

Sources and resources

National Institutes of Health

Mayo Clinic

Cleveland Clinic


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