two women happy in sun

How are you trying to get more vitamin D – being out in the sun and tanning, taking daily supplements or eating foods high in vitamin D?

No matter which method you choose, there are important tips to make sure you’re getting – and using – the right amount of vitamin D your body needs to get all the benefits, including helping to defend against depression, heart disease, stroke, cancer and osteoporosis.

To start, bone health expert Dr. Susan E. Brown, PhD, recommends you aim for a minimum vitamin D level of 32 ng/mL, with an optimum of 50 to 60 ng/mL. Here are the best ways to do that:

1. Test your vitamin D levels. Many people don’t realize that even if they’re getting enough sunlight or supplements, they can still be vitamin D deficient! Vitamin D absorption and utilization differ, sometimes dramatically, from person to person.

That’s why it is so important to get your vitamin D tested, so that you know the actual level and can take steps to increase it if your level is low. For example, for every additional 1000 IU of vitamin D you add to your daily routine, you can expect your vitamin D level to increase 10 ng/mL toward the optimal level of 50 to 60 ng/mL.

2. Get out in the sun. Sun exposure is the best way to get your body to produce vitamin D. Short periods of 15-20 minutes daily without sunscreen is enough for light-skinned people, while others will want to spend more time in the sun. After that, we recommend that you use sunscreen to avoid sunburn. Remember to look for safe body care products whenever possible. Many of the chemical ingredients in personal care products are toxins, allergens and skin irritants. Avoid vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) and oxybenzone. Safer options are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Also, when you can’t pronounce the majority of the ingredients on the label — pass on the product.

Here’s a tip for those of you who live in a northern area (or southern and far from the Equator): You won’t be able to get a lot of vitamin D from the sun in certain months of the year. One way to know if you are getting the kind of sunlight that will help you produce vitamin D is to look at your shadow. If your shadow is longer than you are, you aren’t being exposed to the small spectrum ultraviolet radiation that allows for vitamin D production.

3. Avoid tanning beds. Don’t be tempted to substitute time in the tanning bed for real sunlight. Tanning beds are unsafe and not a desirable source of vitamin D because of the characteristics of the ultraviolet rays that they use. Both the sun and tanning booths send out two kinds of ultraviolet light rays – UVA and UVB (which help your body get the health benefits of sunlight). Tanning salons are most concerned with the UVA rays which produce a beautiful tan, but give you unnecessary and excessive exposure — without any of the benefits of regular sunshine.

4. Take vitamin D supplements every day. Another good source of vitamin D is supplementation. The trick here is to make sure that you’re getting the same form of vitamin D that your skin produces naturally when exposed to the sun — cholecalciferol — or Vitamin D3.

According to research, vitamin D3 is at least three times as potent as vitamin D2, and is more stable, safe and useful in the body. Vitamin D2, another common form of vitamin D that is also known as ergocalciferol, is a compound produced by irradiating yeast with ultraviolet light and is the form most often used in food fortification.

5. Add foods with vitamin D to the menu. In reality, it can be difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone. There are few foods that contain the amount of vitamin D that most people need on a daily basis. However some foods that are higher in vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, Atlantic herring, egg yolk and organ meats.

After several weeks or months of boosting their vitamin D levels through sunlight or supplementation, many women find it helpful to get their vitamin D levels tested so that they can get an idea of how well their body is absorbing and using it. Making sure you’re getting the optimal amount of vitamin D is one of the simplest things you can do for your health.