The Sunshine Vitamin: Bone Health

By Erin O’Connell, MS, RDN, LDN

When the clocks are set back and the weather starts getting colder, getting enough vitamin D can become an issue. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin made in the body with the exposure to sunlight. With less sunlight during the winter months as well as more clothes covering the skin, vitamin D intake through foods becomes even more important.

Vitamin D is an important nutrient that ensures healthy bones and prevention of osteoporosis and osteopenia. Not only does low vitamin D intake cause osteopenia and osteoporosis, older adults are more likely to suffer from bone fractures. Those that suffer from these fractures are shown to have a low quality of life. It has been found that 600 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 mg of Calcium each day is needed to support bone health.

Current Recommendations by The National Osteoporosis Foundation to Prevent Bone Fractures

  1. Pharmacological agents that aid in reducing fracture risk
  2. Adequate Calcium and vitamin D intake
  3. Weight-bearing exercise
  4. Fall prevention
  5. Avoidance of alcohol and tobacco

What foods have Vitamin D?

  • Swordfish
  • Salmon
  • Tuna Fish
  • Orange Juice fortified with vitamin D
  • Milk fortified with vitamin D
  • Yogurt fortified with vitamin D
  • Margarine
  • Sardines
  • Liver
  • Eggs (yolk)
  • Cold cereals that are fortified with 10% of DV for vitamin D
  • Cheese

Specific groups of people have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis due to low Vitamin D levels:

  • Older adults: their bodies have a harder time making vitamin D from the sun, are more likely to spend most of their time indoors, and eat less vitamin D due to lactose intolerance
  • Those with limited sun exposure: those who are homebound, wear religious coverings, and spend most time indoors are less likely to have enough vitamin D due to less time in the sun.
  • Those with darker skin: having darker skin means more of the substance melanin in the skin which can decrease the amount of vitamin D made from the sun
  • Those with certain medical conditions that cause fat malabsorption don’t absorb dietary Vitamin D as well: liver disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease, as well as ulcerative colitis when the terminal ileum is inflamed
  • Those who have had gastric bypass surgery and who suffer from obesity: gastric bypass surgery may result in less intake of vitamin D and those who suffer from obesity may have less vitamin D available for use by the body due to fat storage.

Quick Tips to Adequate Vitamin D Intake:

  1. Choose tuna, salmon, eggs, and/or yogurt as part of your weekly meals.
  2. Choose fortified milk or fortified juice over soda pop and Kool-Aid.
  3. If you are lactose intolerant, make sure the almond, soy, rice, or other alternative milk you drink is fortified with vitamin D.
  4. Choose cereals with fortified vitamin D: crispy oats, toasted oats, Raisin Bran, Life, etc.
  5. When it is sunny, get outside for 20-30 minutes with skin exposed (when it’s warm enough!).

Here are some recipes for including Vitamin D Rich Foods:

Fruit Smoothiefruit-smoothie


  • ½ cup yogurt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 frozen banana
  • ½ cup fruit (fresh or
  • frozen)
  • 1 handful greens


Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add more or less milk (or you could use water) to adjust consistency to your liking.

Canned Tuna and Vegetable Pasta


  • 1 cup of assorted vegetables , chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 1 can of tuna
  • 1/3 cup of cheese
  • 1 can of diced, no salt added tomatoes
  • Variety of spices: pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, etc.
  • 1 cup of uncooked whole wheat pasta (spaghetti, fettuccini, penne, etc.)


In a medium pot, cook pasta in boiling water for 7-9 minutes. While pasta is cooking, in a medium frying pan, sauté the chopped vegetables in the oil for 2-3 minutes on medium high heat. Add the can of tuna and can of diced tomatoes, stirring all ingredients together for 1 minute. Add the spices and stir for another minute. Put cooked pasta in bowl or plate, add tuna vegetable mixture on top, then sprinkle with cheese.


Dempster, D.W. (2011). Osteoporosis and the burden of osteoporosis-related fractures. American Journal of Managed Care, 17(Suppl 6), S164-169.

National Institutes of Health. (2016). Vitamin D: Fact sheet for health professionals. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from

National Osteoporosis Foundation. (2010). Clinician’s guide to prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Retrieved from

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