Vitamin D

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Why do we need vitamin D in our diets?

Vitamin D keeps our bones healthy by helping to control the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies. It also appears to keep our muscles healthy too.

Some people say that vitamin D is not really a vitamin because we can make it when our skin is exposed to sunlight. However, in the UK, there are concerns that we do not make enough to keep our bones and muscles healthy. It is recommended that all of us get some vitamin D from our diet during autumn and winter, and some of us may need a dietary intake all year round.

Recommendations

A vitamin D intake of 8.5-10mcg (micrograms) per day is recommended for infants less than one year old, and an intake of 10mcg is recommended for everyone else. Public health authorities in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland have provided the following advice about supplementation:

Group

Provide/use vitamin D drops/supplement

People aged 5+ years Supplement during autumn and winter, but you might choose not to use one during spring and summer
Pregnant and breastfeeding parents Yes
Breastfed babies Yes*
Formula-fed babies having less than 500ml per day Yes
Children 1-4 years old Yes
People who do not expose their skin to sunlight regularly Yes
People with darker skin Yes

*In Scotland, yes for infants 6 months to 1 year old (advice for infants from birth to 6 months of age currently under review)

If you choose to boost your level of vitamin D by exposing your skin to sunlight during spring and summer, make sure that it does not burn. Aim to spend short periods exposing your skin to sunlight daily, particularly between 11am and 3pm.

Advice for vegans

It is difficult for anyone to get a daily vitamin D intake of 10mcg from food. When choosing a supplement, be aware that some types of vitamin D are not vegan-friendly. Vitamin D2 is always suitable for vegans, but vitamin D3 can be derived from an animal source (such as sheep’s wool) or lichen (a vegan-friendly source).

Take-away tips

  • Check the table above and your country's advice – when do you need to use a vitamin D supplement? 
  • Vitamin D3 from lichen and vitamin D2 are vegan-friendly
  • Please talk to a health professional about supplements to ensure that they are suitable for you or your child

Need more information?  Read our detailed PDF.

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