Focus On: Vitamin D

You may know vitamin D, often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” because of its role in helping to maintain strong bones.  But did you know that it plays a role in immunity, brain and fetal development and heart function as well?  Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties, preventing the release of pro-inflammatory mediators by blood cells.  Have you had your vitamin D levels checked in the past year?  If not, I encourage you to do so.

Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin because our bodies can synthesize it through sunlight exposure to our skin.

Vitamin D was discovered in the early 1900s in western Europe, as researchers were trying to find a cure for a condition called rickets, where children’s bones become extremely soft and children are knock-kneed. Luckily, rickets and the adult version, osteomalacia, are uncommon in the US today. The Institute of Medicine, which sets the recommended daily intakes for vitamins and minerals to avoid deficiency disease among the US population, recommends a vitamin D intake of 400IU for infants, 600IU for children and most adults, and 800IU for those over age 71. This level is set to prevent rickets and osteomalacia across the population.  But is this level sufficient to prevent other conditions?

Vitamin D deficiency, as measured by blood levels, has become more common in recent years.  Is it because we wear more sunscreen, our bodies have a reduced ability to create vitamin D through our skin as we age, a population increase in obesity is affecting absorption, that we aren’t eating enough foods with vitamin D, or perhaps another reason?

While not definitive, epidemiological studies have demonstrated a correlation between vitamin D and autoimmune disease, where low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroid), Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), to name a few. Given that autoimmune disease is rapidly rising, this is clearly an area for further research.*

What is an appropriate blood level?  Most US labs set the reference range for normal vitamin D blood levels at 30-100 ng/mL, though many experts and research supports levels of 50-80 ng/mL.  Levels over 100 ng/mL can be cause for concern.

So, what should you do?

  • Get your vitamin D levels checked at least once a year!
  • If your levels are below 50 ng/mL, supplement and/or increase your dietary intake of vitamin D-rich foods
  • Spend some time outside every day. It’s not only good for making vitamin D; research shows it improves mood and overall health too!

If you are looking to increase your dietary intake of vitamin D, you’ll want to focus on fish oils, fatty fish, egg yolk, fortified milk and juice and fortified cereals. The best dietary sources are cod liver oil (1 Tablespoon = 1300IU), swordfish (3oz.= 550IU) and sockeye salmon (3 oz = 450 IU).  Note: Milk in the Unites States is fortified with 100IU per cup, but foods made from milk, like yogurt and cheese, are usually not fortified.

In terms of supplements:  For your average adult, taking a supplement of 1000IU in the form of D3 is appropriate, especially during the winter and spring months when our stores may be lower because of decreased sunlight exposure in the fall and winter.  There’s no need to megadose, as this is a fat-soluble vitamin.  Of course, getting your doctor to check your vitamin D levels is always the best strategy because you can then fine-tune your supplement dose.  The current tolerable upper limit intake as established by the Institute of Medicine is 4000IU/day, though some practitioners recommend higher doses to those who are deficient.

Additional Resource:  National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin D Fact Sheet

*The National Institutes of Health estimates that 23.5 million Americans currently have an autoimmune disease. To put that in perspective:  cancer affects 9 million and heart disease, 22 million.

The advice provided herein is general advice and does not take into account individual health conditions, medications and other supplements.  If you are pregnant or are a parent to an infant, there are additional considerations not contained in this post. Before starting any supplements, I highly recommend speaking to your doctor, Registered Dietitian or licensed nutritionist.

Intuitive Eating Workshop

Introduction to Intuitive Eating Workshop:
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based, non-diet approach to healing one’s relationship with food and helping return your body to its’ natural weight.  Through this workshop, you’ll learn why diets don’t work and how you can begin the journey toward becoming an intuitive eater.
Have you been on more diets than you can count?
Do you obsess over fat grams or Points?
Do you exercise so you have license to eat the foods you love?
Do you eat when you are emotional, bored, lonely or stressed?
Do you have forbidden foods?
Do you feel guilty when you eat certain foods?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions and are ready to begin a journey towards total health and healing, this workshop is perfect for you.
Book available for purchase:
Intuitive Eating, 3rd edition book ($10 in paperback- please bring cash)
Please bring:
  • your favorite food, particularly if it’s something you don’t normally allow yourself to eat
  • a mind open to discovery and curiosity

Register here

Gingerbread Granola

Here’s a holiday-flavored recipe to close out the year.  We’ve been eating it for a few weeks at my house while I tested out the recipe, and it’s gotten rave reviews.

It’s great with yogurt or milk for breakfast, and we even snack on it mid-afternoon. Sweetened with pure maple syrup and molasses, it’s full of fiber and healthy fats from the oats and nuts.

If you think that homemade granola isn’t worth the trouble, trust me, it is!  You’ll never suffer through the mediocre flavors of the best store-bought granolas again. While it does require about an hour of oven time, getting it into the oven only takes 10-15 minutes and then you can sit back and relax while the wonderful aromas permeate through your house.

Gingerbread Granola

Here’s a granola recipe in keeping with the flavors of the season. And the bonus is, unlike gingerbread or gingerbread cookies, it is full of fiber and healthy fats.  

  • Prep Time: 10m
  • Cook Time: 55m
  • Total Time: 1h 5m
  • Yield: 4 cups


  • 5 tbsp. pure maple syrup (I prefer amber syrup for a richer flavor)
  • 3 tbsp. molasses
  • 3 tbsp. water
  • 1/4 c coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3 c old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
  • 1/2 c raw hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 c raw almonds, roughly chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
  2. Line a large metal cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat
  3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat maple syrup, molasses, water, coconut oil and spices, stirring frequently, until coconut oil is fully melted.
  4. Combine oats, nuts and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir to mix.
  5. Pour warm liquid mixture over oat mixture and stir to coat well. Continue to toss ingredients together for 1 minute to make sure spices are evenly distributed.
  6. Pour granola mixture onto a large cookie sheet. Using a spoon or rubber spatula, make an even layer of the granola mixture across the entire surface of the cookie sheet, pressing down lightly as you go.
  7. Bake granola on center rack for 30 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven. Stir granola thoroughly to redistribute ingredients. Make granola into another even layer, patting down gently again.
  9. Bake for an additional 25 minutes.
  10. Remove from oven and let granola cool completely on cookie sheet, 15-30 minutes. Granola will seem a bit soggy when removed from oven but will crisp while it cools.
  11. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Enjoy!


Holiday Challenge

Did you know that it’s exactly 4 weeks til January 1st?

If that statement put you into a panic, you’re not alone. The January issues of your favorite magazines are starting to arrive in your mailbox.  Their covers highlight articles on New Year’s cleanses, eating clean, detoxes and more.

Well, there’s a lot of living between now 2017. Parties, travel, holiday shopping, lots of cooking…. You get the idea.  It can all feel so overwhelming that we don’t feel like we can spare a minute for ourselves.  We push ourselves to the limit doing things for other people. We skip meals, eat in our cars, and skip exercise that makes us feel better inside and out.  Why can’t we do what the airline safety presentations tell us and put on our own oxygen masks first before tending to others?  We all know that we are better at everything when we give ourselves what we need, but it’s often just so hard to put into practice.

But what if you didn’t use the next few weeks as a time to put your needs second to those of others?  What if you gave ourselves a holiday present of self-care and self-love?

If you typically wake up on January 1st with a long list of resolutions, including foods you won’t ever eat again, then this challenge is for you.

You might be wondering why I’m devoting this post to something that isn’t clearly nutrition-related. But, here’s the thing:  it’s all related. Part of what I work with my Intuitive Eating clients on is what we call self-care. Research shows that if we practice self-care, we tend to be more in touch with what we are eating. And it makes perfect sense:  if we don’t take the time to get in touch with our emotional, social and physical needs, how will we be aware enough to focus on our hunger and satiety cues, and to determine what nourishment our bodies need on any particular day?  When all these factors are taken together, that’s when real, lasting change happens.

Here’s the challenge:  I want you to put yourself first, at least for a portion of every day.  Each day for the next 4 weeks, commit to take at least 15 minutes out of your day to do something just for you. (Bonus points if you keep a record of it.) What that is specifically will vary according to your individual needs and the time you have on any given day, but some examples are:

  • a meditation (I personally love the Calm App);
  • reading a book;
  • going to the movies;
  • excusing yourself from a family gathering to go take a walk in nature;
  • a yoga or exercise class;
  • calling a friend you haven’t talked to in a while;
  • taking time to eat lunch mindfully during your work day;
  • working on a hobby;
  • having tea and a snack mid-afternoon.

We all have the best of intentions, but If you are one of those people who tends to put others’ needs in front of your own, this challenge is particularly important for you.  There are going to be so many reasons for this challenge not to happen:  there are large family meals to cook, relatives to visit, presents to buy and wrap, cards to address and mail, children home from school for 2 weeks…. The list of reasons can seem endless.

Research shows that it takes 21 days of a behavior to make it a habit. So, if you start this challenge today, self-care will become a habit by the new year. And you might just find yourself starting 2017 with a sense of accomplishment rather than a sense of regret.