The ABC’s of vitamin D

Discover the many benefits vitamin D provides to the body, such as improved calcium absorption and bone health.

Vitamin D plays an essential role in health. Mostly produced by our skin from exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays, it can also come from food. Some foods (such as some fish) contain it naturally, while it is added to others (such as milk). Its main function is to promote the absorption of calcium from food so that the body can use it, just as it is used to build strong bones, which need it to constantly renew themselves. It is estimated that vitamin D increases the body's absorption of calcium by 30-80%. In Canada, due to climate and lifestyle, most people do not meet their daily vitamin D requirements. Inadequate intake of this vitamin can contribute to a variety of health problems, including osteoporosis.

Vitamin D and osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a common condition (more common in women) that often goes unnoticed in its early stages, but can become very debilitating due to the falls and fractures it can cause. Osteoporosis is the accelerated loss of bone mass that causes bones to become brittle. One of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis is to make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet, starting in childhood.

What is the daily recommended intake of vitamin D?

Recommendations for optimal daily vitamin D intake vary with age, as shown in Table 1. The main source of vitamin D is undoubtedly the sun. In summer, 15 minutes of sun exposure limited to the face, arms, and hands can significantly increase vitamin D production. Food sources include dairy products, margarine, eggs, fish, cod liver oil, and other food sources. Table 2 lists some examples of foods high in vitamin D.

Table 1 - Recommended daily intake of calcium and vitamin D for men and women*

Age Recommended
Daily Intake of
Elemental Calcium
Daily Intake of
Vitamin D
From 1 to 3 years 700 mg 600 IU
From 4 to 8 years 1,000 mg 600 IU
From 9 to 18 years 1,300 mg 600 IU
From 19 to 50 years 1,000 mg 600 IU
Over age 50 1,200 mg 800 IU
During pregnancy and while breast feeding 1,000 mg 600 IU
* Dietary Reference Intakes. Document available online on Health Canada's website at:

Table 2 - Foods high in vitamin D*

Food Serving Size Amount of
Vitamin D
1%, 2% or 3, % milk 250 ml (1 cup) 103 IU
Skim milk 250 ml (1 cup) 104 IU
Whole uncooked egg 1 large egg 16 IU
Cod liver oil 15 ml 1,382 IU
Uncooked sole 1 filet (162 g) 97 IU
Canned pink salmon with bones 1 can (454 g) 2,638 IU
Poached pink salmon 100 g 861 IU
Canned pink sockeye salmon with bones 1 can (369 g) 2,882 IU
Atlantic sardines canned in oil and with bones 250 ml (drained) 428 IU
Margarine 15 ml 76 IU
*According to Brault Dubuc, M. and Caron Lahaie, L., Valeur nutritive des aliments, 9th edition, Société Brault-Lahaie, 2003, 331 pages.

To ensure an adequate intake...

Vitamin D is available as a supplement (drops, capsules, tablets, etc.) at the pharmacy, with or without a prescription. If you think your daily intake of vitamin D (or calcium) is insufficient, speak to your doctor or pharmacist. They will be able to help you develop a strategy to ensure your bones have a "golden retirement".

Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist if you have any questions about vitamin D.


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The ABC’s of vitamin D

Discover the many benefits vitamin D provides to the body, such as improved calcium absorption and bone health.
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