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From kids to adults: Vitamin D’s role in your family’s health

We recently spoke to dietician, Orla Walsh about the importance of vitamin D in our diet.

From young children to older families, vitamin D is incredibly important across every life stage. Vitamin D is essential for bone strength and immune function. However, according to a recent Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) report, 90pc of children, teenagers and adults have low vitamin D intake levels.

But why is this? Dietitian Orla Walsh has observed clients with low vitamin D levels in her clinic. "I regularly meet people at my clinic who are often surprised to learn from their blood results that their vitamin D levels are very low."

A lack of vitamin D presents itself in so many different ways not only affecting bone health; it extends to muscle function, immune system support, and even dental health.

Orla emphasises the importance of education on vitamin D's benefits and recommends a combination of diet, exercise, and lifestyle adjustments to reduce the risks associated with low vitamin D intake.

What does vitamin D do?

Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because our bodies can make it from the sun. However, as Ireland is in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun does not provide vitamin D from October to March. 

Orla says, “Vitamin D helps our immune system to function as it should. It is needed for normal growth and development of bones in children and contributes to the maintenance of bone health and normal muscle function for all ages."

"Just because low vitamin D intake is common, does not mean it should be ignored," Orla cautions. “This is particularly relevant for children and teenagers; Trinity College Dublin found nearly 1-in-4 children in Dublin have low vitamin D intake levels.”

Orla advises, “Vitamin D is vital for the rapid bone growth which occurs in childhood and adolescence, and it’s during this time that about 90pc of our peak bone mass is achieved. Therefore, low vitamin D levels may lead to lifelong issues."

“For adults, particularly post-menopausal women, vitamin D, in combination with calcium, helps reduce bone mineral loss, crucial for preventing fractures."

“Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become fragile and break easily. Symptoms of undiagnosed osteoporosis include back pain, unexplained broken bones and loss of height.”

Orla emphasises that it’s important to prevent bone fractures rather than react to health issues as they arise. As we age, the benefits of Vitamin D shouldn’t be overlooked.

“In seniors, vitamin D is important for maintaining muscle function and reducing the risk of falling associated with muscle weakness. Falling can cause bone fractures for adults 65 years of age and older."

Getting enough vitamin D: How your diet can help

We can get vitamin D in our diets from foods which naturally contain it, or from foods fortified with vitamin D.

Food sources of naturally occurring vitamin D are limited; they include oily fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel), liver and eggs.

Orla says, “We know that Irish people don’t eat enough fish. Nonetheless, even if people ate the recommended amounts of oily fish (once a week) they would not consume enough vitamin D.”

The fortification of foods with vitamin D can be very helpful, especially if they are foods or drinks consumed daily. Fortified milk can be added to breakfast cereals, a glass with lunch or dinner or added to soups, sauces or desserts during cooking to help increase vitamin D intake. This helps everyone in the family increase their vitamin D intake through simple everyday meals.

Orla recommends some easy food swaps, for example, “Try making porridge with fortified milk instead of water or adding fortified milk to wholegrain breakfast cereal or muesli. For dinner, why not add fortified milk to mashed potato?"

“My advice for people would be to enjoy oily fish once a week, and eggs regularly. Choose fortified foods more often and consider taking a daily supplement where necessary.”

Maintaining health

As you get older, your focus tends to shift to maintaining health and preventing future problems.

“We know that 1-in-5 older adults in Ireland have low vitamin D intake levels in winter, with this number increasing to almost 1-in- 2 of those over 85,” says Orla.

“From clinic experience, this is due to a number of reasons including being housebound, shorter days with little sunlight exposure and /or eating inadequate amounts of vitamin D foods or fortified foods.”

Orla recommends some positive diet and lifestyle changes we can all make, including:

   1. Aim to be active for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

   2. Include oily fish once a week.

   3. Add Vitamin D fortified foods into your regular food shop: they are easy to add to your family meals and snacks.

Making positive lifestyle changes will help increase your vitamin D intake. Orla highlights the importance of future-proofing our health, and her advice offers a clear pathway: embrace a balanced diet including fortified foods and lay the foundation for a healthier future for all ages.

About Avonmore Super Milk:

Avonmore Super Milk is enriched with vitamin D. Every 250ml glass provides 5.0µg of vitamin D which not only supports bone health, but the immune system too.

In addition to vitamin D, Avonmore Super Milk is enriched with vitamin B, vitamin E, additional calcium and folic acid, making it a great choice for all the family every day. It can be challenging to include adequate vitamins into the diet of young children or even older families. Avonmore Super Milk helps families of all ages increase their intake of vitamin D and other essential nutrients, through simple everyday meals.

Avonmore Super Milk is available in shops nationwide and comes in whole milk, low fat and fat-free packs.