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Vitamin D

Yukoners need vitamin D at every stage of life, year round. Learn more about Vitamin D and see if you’re getting what you need.

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a nutrient that helps the body use calcium and phosphorus to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D is unique in that it can be synthesized by the body after exposure to ultraviolet rays from sunlight. Too little vitamin D can cause calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood to decrease, leading to calcium being pulled out of the bones to help maintain stable blood levels. This can cause rickets in children and osteomalacia (softening of the bones) or osteoporosis (fragile bones) in adults. However, too much vitamin D can cause too much calcium to be deposited in the body, which can lead to calcification of the kidney and other soft tissues including the heart, lungs and blood vessels.

Role of vitamin D

Vitamin D is a nutrient that helps your body absorb calcium. Calcium and vitamin D work together to help you maintain healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin D also helps your muscles, nerves and immune system work properly. Recent research has shown that vitamin D may be linked to lowering the risk of diseases such as multiple sclerosis and some cancers.


Q: Why is vitamin D called the Sunshine Vitamin?

A: Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin because skin uses sunshine (UV light) to make vitamin D. However, in Canada, sunlight is not a reliable source of vitamin D for many months during the year.

Q: If I drink milk every day do I get enough?

A: Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide recommends that all Canadians over the age of two, including pregnant and lactating women, consume 2 cups of milk or fortified soy beverages every day. These foods are fortified with vitamin D. However, since 1 cup of milk contains approximately 100IU, it would be difficult to meet your vitamin D needs through milk alone.

Q: Can we get enough vitamin D from our diet?

A: Excellent sources of vitamin D are foods and beverages that have added vitamin D. Cow’s milk, fortified orange juice, fortified soy beverages and most fish (salmon, trout, tuna, cod) are the best sources.  However, it is difficult to meet vitamin D needs through food alone.

Q: Could we be taking too much? And could vitamin Dactually be harmful to our health?

A: Because vitamin D is stored in fat cells, excess doses can build up to harmful levels, causing high blood calcium and damage to the heart, blood vessels and kidneys. Total vitamin D intake should remain below the level of the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) to avoid possible adverse effects. Long-term intakes above the UL increase the risk of adverse health effects.

Age group Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) per day
Infants 0-6 months 1000 IU
Infants 7-12 months 1500 IU
Children 1-3 years 2500 IU
Children 4-8 years 3000 IU
Children and Adults
9-70 years
4000 IU
Adults > 70 years 4000 IU
Pregnancy & Lactation 4000 IU

Q: What is the Vitamin D status of Canadians?

A: Dietary intake data were collected in the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). At a national level, there seems to be a very high prevalence of inadequate vitamin D intakes from food sources (range 75-96%; with most age and gender groups having about 90% prevalence of inadequate intakes.)

Data on vitamin D intakes from food and supplement sources combined show a lower prevalence of inadequate vitamin D intakes, although still above 50% (range 54-84%, depending on age and gender).
The Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) was conducted from 2007 to 2009 and collected blood samples, from which vitamin D status can be assessed. While there appears to be a high prevalence of inadequate intakes of vitamin D from dietary sources, available clinical measures do not suggest wide-spread vitamin D deficiency in the Canadian population. Vitamin D status in some sub-populations, however, may warrant further consideration.

Q. Can I get vitamin D from tanning beds and SAD lights?

A: The sun produces two types of rays: UVA and UVB. Most tanning salons use UVA bulbs in their beds. However, vitamin D production comes from the UVB rays.

Light therapy is especially popular with treating SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). If the light you are using will emit UVB rays, then you will be able to produce vitamin D. 

10 tips for getting more

1. Use milk or fortified soy beverage instead of water when making pancakes, muffins, soups, puddings, smoothies and sauces
2. Make hot chocolate with milk instead of water
3. Add low fat milk to coffee instead of whitener
4. Use smoked salmon on crackers or in a wrap
5. Make scrambled eggs with added milk
6. Try canned salmon in a wrap or sandwich
7. Put fish such as salmon or lake trout on the dinner menu
8. If you choose to drink juice, choose orange juice fortified with vitamin D
9. Choose yogurts fortified with vitamin D
10. Consider a vitamin D supplement

Reading Labels

The vitamin D content of a food is found on the Nutrition Facts Table and is expressed as the % Daily value. You can use the %DV on the food label to find out the vitamin D content (IU) per serving of food.
Knowing how to read food labels will help you find foods with vitamin D.

When vitamin D is listed on a food label, it is as easy as 1, 2 3 to find the vitamin D content (IU per serving):

1. Find the %DV
2. Drop the %
3. Multiply by 4= IU per serving

For example: if milk has a 25% DV of vitamin D per serving, drop the %=25. 25X4= 100 IU per 1 cup serving.

Vitamin D needs throughout the lifecycle

The amount of vitamin D you need depends on your age.

 Age group  Aim for an intake of international units (IU)/day Stay below IU/day*
Infants 0-6 months old 400 1000
Infants 7-12 months old 400 1500
Children 1-3 years old 600 2500
Children 4-8 years old 600 3000
Children and Adults 9-70 years old 600 4000  
Adults over 71 years old 800 4000
Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women 600 4000  
   *This includes vitamin D from both food and supplements


The best way to ensure that you are getting suffi cient vitamin D is by taking a daily supplement.

Q: How do I know if I need to take a supplement?

A: Getting enough vitamin D through food alone can be difficult. You can take a vitamin D supplement or a multivitamin with Vitamin D in it to ensure you have what you need.

Adults over the age of fifty
Health Canada recommends that, in addition to following Canada's Food Guide, everyone over the age of 50 should take a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU.

Health Canada recommends that all breastfed, healthy term babies receive a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU. Supplementation of the vitamin should begin at birth and continue until one year of age. This recommendation is to help reduce the risk of rickets, a disease that affects bone growth in children. Infants who are formula fed receive adequate vitamin D from formula.

Q: I can only find Vitamin D in 400IU or 1000IU. How do I know which one to buy?

A: The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for Vitamin D ranges from 2500IU for children, to 4000IU for adults over 70 years. Total vitamin D intake from food and supplements should remain below the UL to avoid possible adverse effects. It is safe to consume 1000IU of vitamin D daily year round. Choose a supplement that contains vitamin D3, the form that is more efficient in raising vitamin D levels, not D2.
Most multivitamins contain some vitamin D but the amounts vary quite a bit, so be sure to read the small print on the label carefully. Some calcium supplements also contain vitamin D3 and again the amounts vary. If you are unclear how much vitamin D your supplements contain, please check with a pharmacist.

Q: What’s the difference between the drop and the pill?

A: A single vitamin D3 supplement (without other vitamins) in a liquid (drop) format is recommended for infants. Other vitamin D products such as vitamin D2 or a multivitamin (which contains vitamin D) are not recommended for infants.


Contact info

Health Promotion

Phone: 867-667-3003

Toll Free (Yukon, Nunavut and NWT); 1-800-661-0408 ext. 3003

Fax: 867-456-6502


Mailing Address:

Health Promotion (HP-305)
Health & Social Services, Government of Yukon
Box 2703
Whitehorse, Yukon  Y1A 2C6

Location: 305 Jarvis Street | Second Floor | Whitehorse, Yukon [map]


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