I know I'm not getting enough vitamin D, which-as a dietitian and nutrition editor of EatingWell Magazine-I hate to admit.

Except for in my coffee, I don't care much for milk (a food that's fortified with D). I also spend most of my weekday hours indoors behind a computer, I slather any sun-exposed skin with sunscreen when I go outdoors and I live north of the midsection of the country-all of which means I'm not getting enough sunlight for my body to produce the quantity of D I need. (Ultraviolet, or UV, rays penetrate the skin's uppermost layer, causing skin cells to produce a form of vitamin D, which is then processed-along with vitamin D from food-by the liver and kidneys and converted to the active form of the vitamin.)

I'm not alone: some studies suggest that as many as 7 out of 10 Americans don't get enough of the "sunshine vitamin." Interesting, considering the Institute of Medicine recently upped the daily recommended amount (for ages 1 to 70) to 600 International Units (IUs).

Having sufficient levels of D is important for everyone, me included. The vitamin practically deserves super-nutrient status:

  • Vitamin D helps bones absorb calcium, keeping them strong and preventing osteoporosis.
  • It may offer protection against cancer-lowering the risk of some types like breast, prostate and colorectal.
  • Studies suggest it can help with depression and in preventing seasonal mood swings.
  • Adequate D may help lower heart disease risk. Research has linked low levels of vitamin D with both cardiovascular disease and conditions that increase risk of cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Vitamin D could help with weight control. In some studies, people with higher body mass indexes (BMIs) tend to have lower D levels. Also, upping vitamin D (and calcium) intake may have helped boost weight loss in one recent study of dieters. (Check out these 7 Foods That Do the Weight-Loss Work for You.)

Although I really should be more diligent about taking a vitamin D supplement, the nutritionist in me would rather try to eat more D-rich foods instead. But because you don't have many options with vitamin D, check out this chart to know how they stack up.

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