Among the vitamins and minerals your growing child needs to develop and thrive, vitamin D is especially important. “Vitamin D plays a significant role in your child’s health,” says Emily Ostrowski, a Pediatric Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing.
“Vitamin D is very important for bone health and can help with the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and other micronutrients,” she says, adding that vitamin D can also prevent rickets in children and wards against osteoporosis later in life.
The list goes on. Vitamin D plays an important role in immune function, heart and brain health, even mood. “In some cases, it can help with pain tolerance,” says Ostrowski.
Vitamin D deficiency in children results in a condition called rickets, which causes soft bones and skeletal deformities, as well as failure to thrive, developmental delay, dental abnormalities and a host of other medical problems, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Vitamin D: what it is and how to get it
According to the NIH, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods and added to others. It’s also available as a dietary supplement.
But here’s the cool thing about vitamin D: it’s produced by our bodies when ultraviolet rays from sunlight hit our skin and trigger the synthesis of vitamin D inside our bodies. Just a short period of sunlight on the arms and face during a time of the year when exposure is comfortable can be helpful.
But, there are downsides to relying on the sun for your vitamin D.
“Season, time of day, length of day, cloud cover, smog, skin melanin content and sunscreen are among the factors that affect UV radiation exposure and vitamin D synthesis,” according to the NIH. “Older people and people with dark skin are less able to produce vitamin D from sunlight. UVB radiation does not penetrate glass, so exposure to sunshine indoors through a window does not produce vitamin D.”
Food sources are also important for getting enough vitamin D, says Ostrowski. “I like to have families know about the sources of foods that are higher in vitamin D, but also about taking a multivitamin and, if necessary, having blood levels of vitamin D checked,” she says.
Egg yolks, liver, some fish and fortified dairy products contain vitamin D, she says. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plain whole cow’s milk is a “great source of vitamin D” for children older than 12 months.
While cow’s milk that is fortified with vitamin D has reduced the risk of deficiency in children, drinking juice and other beverages in place of milk — and less outdoor play time — increases the risk, according to information on vitamin D deficiency in kids from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
If your child isn’t excited about drinking the two to three servings of dairy they need each day, consider chocolate milk. It has the same nine essential nutrients found in white milk that are needed for good health, according to Milk Means More. Kids older than 2 often fall short of these nutrients, which include vitamin D.
Check with your doctor
Talk to your child’s doctor to learn more about how much vitamin D your child needs, based on their age, diet and sun exposure. And, if your child has a health condition, their vitamin D needs are likely to be unique to them.
“When we work with patients with other health problems, our physician team often recommends a multivitamin, but they may also recommend checking serum levels and making a more aggressive plan,” Ostrowski says.
Content sponsored by Milk Means More. Visit milkmeansmore.org for more information and nutritious recipes your whole family with love.