Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

  • Karen Graham
  • December 5, 2012

Vitamin D, in the true sense, is actually a hormone, not a vitamin. The human body can synthesize vitamin D as long as we are exposed to enough sunlight. This is why vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin.” We can also get it through specific foods in our diet and supplements.

When UVB rays from the sun hit our skin, an inactive form of vitamin D is produced. This inactive form then travels to the kidney where it is converted to the active form, known as 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, which the body can use for many purposes.

Health Risks of Vitamin D Deficiency

Researchers have discovered that there are vitamin D receptors in all tissues in the human body. This means that these tissues, including the heart, brain, muscle and intestines, all need vitamin D to function properly.

Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

We used to think that the only role of vitamin D was to regulate blood levels of phosphorus and calcium to keep our bones strong and healthy. Over the past several years, however, researchers have discovered that this hormone plays a much bigger role than just bone health. They now know that the sunshine vitamin enhances our immune system by creating a resistance to chronic diseases such as colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression and Alzheimer’s.

In addition, low levels of vitamin D have shown to be a risk factor for cognitive decline in the elderly. One study looked at 6,257 elderly women and found that those with low vitamin D levels had an increased risk of cognitive impairment.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

If vitamin D is so easy to obtain from sunlight, diet and supplements then why is it estimated that one billion people worldwide are deficient in it? Some researchers suggest the fear of skin cancer from UV rays is causing people to avoid the sun or use sunblock, or that our lifestyles have evolved to be indoors more often, all of which prevents vitamin D production. Ethnicity plays a role as well. The darker a person’s skin color, the more sun exposure they need to obtain sufficient levels of vitamin D. For example, in the United States African Americans have been found to have lower serum levels of vitamin D than Caucasians.

In addition, there are limited foods that contain naturally occurring vitamin D, mainly wild-caught oily fish (salmon, mackerel, bluefish, and canned tuna) and egg yolks. There are also fortified foods such as milk, baby formula, cereal and orange juice. If these foods are not consumed on a regular basis, levels could drop. Still, experts claim that 90 percent of our vitamin D comes from sun exposure alone.

Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency

Bone pain and muscle weakness can be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. However, the symptoms are often unnoticeable until a greater complication is present.

Know Your Vitamin D Levels

Now that we know the importance of maintaining optimal vitamin D levels, how do we find out our own levels? Fortunately, there is a blood test which can determine your status.


2.    Slinin Y, Paudel M: Association Between Serum 25(OH) Vitamin D and the Risk of Cognitive Decline in Older Women. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2012; gls075v1-gls075.
3.    Holick MF, Chen TC, Lu Z, Sauter E.Vitamin D and Skin Physioology: a D-lightful story. J Bone Miner Res. 2007 Dec;22 Suppl 2:V28-33.

Vitamin D Sources

The best way to get vitamin D is through the sun. We absorb large amounts of vitamin D in a short amount of time when exposed to UVB rays. There are many factors that affect how much vitamin D we can produce from UVB rays, including the time of day, latitude, time of year, skin type and age. Someone above 60 years of age requires four times more exposure than someone in their 20s.

There are also vitamin D supplements. The amount of vitamin D necessary to raise levels from deficiency to a normal range is very controversial and many experts have varying opinions. Again, there are many factors that come in to play such as age, weight, sun exposure, other health conditions, medications and the quality of the supplement. When choosing a supplement, seek advice from a registered dietitian or other health care practitioner.

What works for one person may not work for another. The only way to tell if a certain regiment is working is to have your vitamin D levels measured and then occasionally monitor.

Find the original article on WellnessFX.

Julie Murphy before & after

The Superhero Diet

  • Karen Graham
  • July 1, 2012

Spiderman and Batman are both soaring into movie theatres this summer. They’re buff, tough and ready to kick some serious butt – but doesn’t saving the planet have them starving? Arizona-based dietitian Karen Graham breaks down how much food one day in their super lifestyles would require. The short answer is a lot.

Spider-Man (aka Peter Parker)

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 167lbs

To lift up to 10 tons: Peter requires lots and lots of protein to maintain his Spidey strength. 12 eggs, 3 turkey legs, 3 salmon fillets and 7 breasts a day.

To outrun a fast car: This superhero gets revved up with energizing, high quality carbs like 12 sweet potatoes, 5 cups brown rice and 10 cups oatmeal.

To scale buildings and swing from webs: He gets all his stamina from non stop snacking: 5 bananas, 5 oranges, 5 cups broccoli and 15 cups raw spinach.

Estimated daily calorie intake: 19,052

Batman (aka Bruce Wayne)

Height: 6’2″
Weight: 210lbs

To run Wayne Enterprises and hack into computers: This job is all about optimal brain function, so he needs foods high in omega-3s: 2 salmon fillets, 1 cup walnuts and 2oz. chia seeds.

To keep up his muscle-building regimen: Holy protein, Batman! To build muscle, he’ll want 2 chicken breasts, 6 eggs, 1 cup walnuts, 2 salmon fillets, 2 cups broccoli and 2 cups spinach.

To defeat villains in hand-to-hand combat: High fiber carbs – like 2 cups oatmeal and 2 bananas will booast his energy.

Estimated daily calorie intake: 4,826

Click here for the original article in EveryDay 

Got (Non-Diary) Milk?

  • Karen Graham
  • June 6, 2009




As the mustached celebrities in those milk ads tell us milk does a body good thanks to its calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients But what if you’re lactose intolerant, vegan or simply not a fan of cow’s milk? You have plenty of nondairy options- from the more common ones like soy and rice milks to the nut, oat, and even hemp varieties. “I tell patients with lactose issues to explore all of these nondairy alternatives because they all meet different nutritional needs and have unique tastes,” says Karen Graham, RD, an Arizona-based integrative nutritionist. What’s more, each of these milks has a distinct color, texture, and flavor that make it fun and interesting to cook with. San Francisco based chef and nutrition consultant Grace Avila shares her favorite ways to use these milks.

Soy Milk

The original and most popular nondairy milk, soy milk has a nutritional profile similar to cow’s milk – it’s high in protein (seven grams per cup to skim milk’s nearly nine) and rich in iron. Soy milk is also low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol. Some people, however, can’t get past the bitter aftertaste and strong odor. If this sounds like you, test the vanilla and chocolate-flavored varieties.

Try it: Substitute soy milk in your morning coffee, oatmeal, or any other recipe that calls for cow’s milk. Note that freezing soy milk can alter the flavor so don’t try making soy ice cream.

Rice Milk

Made from a mixture of brown rice, water, and sweeteners, rice milk – like its main ingredient – is high in carbohydrates and low in protein (only one gram of protein per cup). Because it has fewer nutrients than other nondairy milks, store-bought rice milk is typically fortified with calcium and vitamin D, says Graham.

Try it: Add rice milk to squash or pumpkin soup for a touch of sweetness, or use it as a milk substitute in your brownie recipe.

Hemp Milk

Boasting 10 essential amino acids and a balance of omega-3s and omega-6s, hemp milk – made by blending hemp seeds and water – is an excellent source of protein. Also, one cup contains 16 percent more calcium than soy or cow’s milk.

Try it: Hemp milk’s thick, slightly gritty texture makes it a perfect addition to smoothies and creamy soups. Avila blends blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries with hemp milk and adds a scoop of whey for a protein-packed smoothie

Almond Milk

Snacking on almonds is a surefire way to add protein and fiber to your diet – so it’s a bit shocking that a cup of almond milk only contains one to two grams of protein. Why? The drink is more water than nuts, says Graham, which makes it low in calories – only 60 per cup. Yet it contains plenty of vitamin E and trace minerals.

Try it: Almond milk has a creamy consistency and slightly sweet, nutty taste that work nicely in baked goods such as muffins and cookies.

Oat Milk

Oat milk is made from a mixture of water and oat groats (the grain hulled and smashed), along with a few other grains such as barley or brown rice. Low in fat and high in calcium, folic acid, and iron – oat milk is a healthy alternative to cow’s milk. Unfortunately, it does contain gluten – a problem for those sensitive to wheat.

Try it: Pour it over cereal, substitute it for cow’s milk in baked goods, or add it to a curry sauce. Oat milk is quite versatile because it has the mildest and least-sweet taste of all the nondairy milk, says Avila.