How to get vitamin D without risking excessive sun exposure.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones. In Finland we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight exposure from around late May to the end of September. Find out how to get enough without risking sun damage.
We need vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet. These minerals are important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.
A lack of vitamin D, known as vitamin D deficiency, can cause bones to become soft and weak, which can lead to bone deformities.
How do we get vitamin D?
Our body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin when we’re outdoors. From about late May to the end of September, most people should be able to get all the vitamin D we need from sunlight.
We also get some vitamin D from a small number of foods, including oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines, as well as red meat and eggs.
Vitamin D is also added to all infant formula milk, as well as some breakfast cereals, fat spreads and non-dairy milk alternatives.
Another source of vitamin D is dietary supplements.
How long should we spend in the sun?
Most people can make enough vitamin D from being out in the sun daily for short periods with their forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen for 15 minutes. More time spent in the sun equals more sun damage and risk of getting a sunburn, therefore it is not enough to expose the entire body to be able to synthesize vitamin D.
During winter months, we rely on getting our vitamin D from food sources (including fortified foods) and supplements.
Who should take vitamin D supplements?
Some groups of the population are at greater risk of not getting enough vitamin D.
People should take daily vitamin D supplements to make sure they get enough.
These groups are:
- all babies from birth to 1 year old (including breastfed babies and formula-fed babies who have less than 500ml a day of infant formula)
- all children aged 1 to 4 years old
- people who aren’t often exposed to the sun (for example, people who are frail or housebound, or are in an institution such as a care home, or if they usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors)
For the rest of the population, everyone over the age of 5 years (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) is advised to consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (μg) of vitamin D.