By Casey Seamon, Registered Dietitian

Does it surprise you that vitamin D (a.k.a the sunshine vitamin) is different from all other vitamins? It's actually more like a hormone, which is a complicated concept, but basically means that only about 10% is absorbed from the food you eat and the rest is made within your own body.

Biochemistry aside, it is incredibly important to intake and maintain adequate vitamin D levels. Vitamin D helps regulate our calcium levels and immune system, among other essential functions. However, vitamin D deficiency is all too common, affecting about 40% of the population.

Typical food sources that are high in vitamin D include salmon, tuna, liver, eggs and milk. But since our body can only absorb a small amount of the vitamin D it needs from food, where does the rest come from? Well, it isn’t called the “sunshine vitamin” for nothing! 

In order to get an excellent source of vitamin D, look no further than the hot summer sun. Our body can actually make its own vitamin D from sunlight. Amazing!

I know your next question: What about protecting yourself from harmful cancer-causing rays?

Good thinking! Getting vitamin D from direct sunlight is absolutely advised, but you have to be careful to know when to call it quits and lather on the sunblock. Check out these 3 tips to help you get the vitamin D you need.

Aim for 15-20 minutes of direct sunlight: Exposing yourself to the UVB rays from the sun causes a chemical reaction to happen under the skin that generates vitamin D for your body to absorb. Typically, about 15 minutes during peak sun hours (10 am – 2 pm) three times a week is all you need to meet your vitamin D needs. However, those with darker skin complexion may need up to 30 minutes due to the melanin present in the skin that blocks some of the UVB rays.

Put on sunblock after your time is up: On average, a person’s risk for skin cancer doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns. So, once you’ve gotten your fifteen minutes of sun, lather up, and remember to reapply every 2-3 hours!

Stay smart with supplements: Vitamin D is fat soluble. This basically means that when your body gets too much, it can’t easily get rid of it. It can build up in your system over time and lead to toxicity, which is characterized by symptoms like nausea, vomiting, weakness, and extreme thirst. That being said, it’s almost impossible to get too much vitamin D from sun exposure or your diet; the true culprit is vitamin D supplement overdosing. Always talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements to make sure you’re getting the correct amount.

Overall, vitamin D is responsible for maintaining healthy bones and teeth, supporting a strong immune system, and even improving your mood! The summer is a wonderful time to soak up the sun’s rays and help keep your body strong and happy. Just keep in mind that it is equally important to protect yourself from skin cancer and vitamin toxicity!

Summer season also calls for more H2O! Check out these 5 surprising signs that you're dehydrated.