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Recipe Swap: The sunshine vitamin

Some of you might remember how you started cold winter days as kids with a tablespoon of cod liver oil. Mom always had it waiting on the corner of the kitchen table before I left for school — yeech! But it was good for us. It was a valuable dose of vitamin D, which, until milk was fortified in 1965, wasn’t so readily available in commonly consumed foods. We saw a major public health payback from milk fortification. It helped reduce what had been a troubling incidence of rickets in children. It got more vitamin D into grown-ups too.

Most of us learned in health class how vitamin D is the “sunshine vitamin” which we make in our own bodies when exposed to sunlight.

But Canadians aren’t able to produce much, if any, of it during winter. Between October and March, fewer ultraviolet B (UVB) photons reach our part of earth so even with exposure to sunlight outside on a wintry day we don’t produce vitamin D.

We still see low vitamin D levels in Canadians today. A new report out this month from Statistics Canada says most, but not all, Canadians now retain levels of vitamin D in their blood at or above a level sufficient for healthy bones.

The study, done between 2009 and 2011, says over two-thirds (68 per cent) of those surveyed had sufficient vitamin D blood levels. Men are less likely to have sufficient vitamin D blood levels than women. Not surprisingly, the same report says more of us have sufficient vitamin D in our blood in summer than winter.

Staying indoors a lot, wearing sunscreen, aging, living in places with smog and cloud cover, and having skin that is darkly pigmented all contribute to our challenge of having sufficient vitamin D levels in a wintry country.

Eating foods with vitamin D can help. But vitamin D is not found naturally in all that many commonly consumed foods.

Certain types of fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna naturally contain substantial amounts of vitamin D. Margarine and some soy or rice beverages and yogurts now, like milk, also have vitamin D added to them. Egg yolks are also a source of vitamin D.

The Dietitians of Canada website, says most of us can get sufficient vitamin D if we eat enough vitamin D-rich foods and are out in the sun regularly (don’t overdo it). Those who aren’t sure if they’re getting enough should talk to a doctor.

Canada’s Food Guide recommends that all Canadians over the age of two consume two cups of milk every day for adequate vitamin D. Older persons are at a higher risk for insufficient vitamin D. Health Canada recommends that men and women over age 50 take a supplement of 400 IU/day. That’s the age group that will remember the taste of cod liver oil.

If you’d like to know more about vitamin D there’s lots of good information found on the Dietitians of Canada website at www.dieti

You can also find a list of food sources for adding more vitamin D to your diet. Included on that list is the mild-tasting whitefish. So here’s a recipe you might want to try.

Poached Lake Whitefish

  • 4 Freshwater Fish lake whitefish fillets or 1 whole lake whitefish, cleaned
  • 4 c. boiling water1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. basil
  • 1/2 tsp. sage
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 small red pepper, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, sliced
  • 1 large carrot, sliced
  • Minced parsley

Rinse fish thoroughly in cold water. If using a whole fish, score back of fish with small slices. Bring water to a boil and add onions, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, basil, sage, lemon juice, red pepper, celery and carrot. Boil for 10 minutes then place fish in water to gently avoid breaking. Simmer fish for 10 minutes and remove from water. Drain fish and arrange on a platter. Garnish with minced parsley and vegetables, served with melted butter. Serves 4.

Alaska Salmon Mini-Loaves

  • 1 egg OR 2 egg whites, slightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp. fat-free milk
  • 1 tsp. dried minced onion
  • 1/2 tsp. dillweed
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. lemon pepper or Cajun seasoning
  • 1 c. soft multi-grain or whole wheat bread crumbs (about 2 slices of bread)
  • 1 can (14.75 oz.) or 2 cans (7.5 oz. each) traditional-pack Alaska salmon OR 8 to 10 oz. skinless, boneless salmon (canned or poached)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray-coat a shallow baking dish. Drain and chunk salmon. In mixing bowl, blend egg, milk, dried onion, dillweed, and seasoning. Blend in bread crumbs, then salmon. Divide salmon mixture into 4 pieces. Shape each piece into a 4×2-inch mini-loaf, and place in baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes. To serve, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of your favourite sauce.

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 20 minutes. Serves 4.

The amount of vitamin D you need depends on your age

Age Daily vitamin D needs (IU/day) Do not exceed (IU/day)*

19 to 15 600 4,000

51 to 70 600 4,000

71 and up 800 4,000

Pregnant and breastfeeding 600 4,000

*This includes sources of vitamin D from food and supplements.

More info about vitamin D

• Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that your body can store extra amounts of vitamin D.

• It is important to get enough vitamin D from your diet because it helps our bodies absorb and use calcium and phosphorus for strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D can help protect older adults against osteoporosis.

• Vitamin D can also protect against infections by keeping your immune system healthy.

• It may help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis and certain types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer. But this is still being studied.

About the author


Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.



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