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Getting a D when you were in school wasn't a good sign. You may have even done that sneaky little trick of adding an extra bubble and making it into a B. Not that I did that or anything.
But there's also a good kind of D—the vitamin form of the consonant. Vitamin D brings a lot of benefits to your body. It strengthens your immune system, is linked to maintaining a healthy weight, and may reduce risk for multiple sclerosis or the severity of its effects.
And there's more. "Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus to help build and maintain strong bones," says Dee Sandquist, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and a registered dietitian. This lowers your risk of osteoporosis, a disease that causes your bones to be fragile, increasing your risk of breaks as you age.
One of the easiest ways to get vitamin D is to spend time in the sun, but that contradicts the other message you've been inundated with, which says sunscreen and shade should be your best friends and that UV rays can cause cancer (this is true, by the way).
Fortunately, there are other ways to get your recommended 600 IUs (international units) of vitamin D a day (that's for men and women ages 1 to 70—babies need a little less, and adults older than 70 need a little more).
Sandquist says fortified foods such as milk, orange juice and cereal are good sources of vitamin D. Almost all U.S. milk is fortified with 100 IUs per cup, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Other good vitamin D sources, Sandquist says, are cod liver oil and fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines.
The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency may be so subtle and wide-ranging that it's difficult to link them to the condition. They include chronic bone pain, muscle weakness, more frequent infections, weakened bones (which you may not notice until one breaks) and even depression. Prolonged vitamin D deficiency can lead not only to osteoporosis but, Sandquist says, it also puts you at higher risk for hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers and multiple sclerosis.
Getting enough vitamin D in your diet might not be enough. If you have concerns, talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement. "You may also want to work with a registered dietitian to personalize a diet plan," Sandquist says. Most important, remember that a deficiency can be avoided if you act soon enough.
Now, go eat some tuna.