Which is healthier – 1) eating ice cream at the beach on a sunny day, or 2) eating a house salad with nonfat salad dressing in a dimly lit restaurant? According to a recent study, eating ice cream and spending time in the sun may be the clear winner for most toddlers and even some adults.
the American Academy of Pediatrics recently came out with a report suggesting that breastfed infants two months and older be given a vitamin D supplement (formula is fortified with vitamin D) based on the low amount of vitamin D in most mothers’ milk. This vitamin varies widely in milk depending on how much the mother is consuming or making from exposure to sunlight. The AAP recommends that babies continue supplementation until they drink at least a pint per day of vitamin D fortified milk or formula. They do NOT recommend sun exposure without sunscreen, even though studies show that 10-30 minutes of being in sunlight while wearing only a diaper would be all infants need to make sufficient vitamin D. (However, I find it hard to believe that 10 minutes of sun once a day is that likely to cause cancer).
Why the sudden focus on D? Roughly 30% of babies may be D-deficient, and many adults are as well. Extreme deficiency leads to rickets, but even low levels of this vitamin are associated with poor bone development in children and diabetes, cancer, and heart disease in adults. Recent studies also show a possible link between autism and low vitamin D levels. As people are drinking less D-fortified milk and spending less time in the sun without sunscreen, more Americans are becoming D-ficient and seeing the negative health consequences.
Technically, vitamin D is more of a hormone than a vitamin since our bodies can make it from exposure to UV rays from sunlight. Unfortunately, what boosts D production may also cause skin cancer. Because D production varies so widely depending on the season, location, amount of sunlight, and a person’s genetics, doctors recommend a dietary supplement to ensure adequate amounts. In the old days people gave their children cod liver oil which is a great source of vitamins D and A as well as omega 3’s, but this supplement has a wildly unpopular flavor, and better-tasting D’s are on the market. Also, seafood such as salmon, shrimp, and sardines are rich sources of vitamin D if you do not eat or drink fortified dairy products.
Talk to child’s pediatritian on what he or she recommends for your baby’s D levels… and if you always wear sunscreen and never drink milk, it may be time to take a beach trip, put the sunscreen on after the first 20 minutes, and enjoy a vitamin D-rich smoothie or ice cream cone!