Here in the land of culinary excess, vitamin D and calcium deficiencies, oddly enough, are on the rise. Why? Because many people are so sun-phobic and cholesterol/weight-conscious that they never venture into the sun unless slathered with SPF-50 sunscreen and are totally eschewing the dairy products that are a major source of calcium. Calcium can’t properly absorb into the body without vitamin D, so it’s a double whammy, leaving women, in particular, at risk of bone fracture or osteoporosis after menopause (80 percent of the 10 million Americans with osteoporosis are women).
Ironically enough, including more dairy products in your diet could help slow down the postmenopausal weight gain most women experience. A seven-year study of 36,000 U.S. women reported on in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that women who took 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D every day gained less weight than those who took a placebo. “The study proved that calcium and vitamin D supplements slowed the weight gain women typically experience from menopause until their mid-sixties,” says Elizabeth DeRobertis, a registered dietician in White Plains.
“Women not taking enough calcium before the study demonstrated the greatest benefit. They were eleven percent less likely to gain weight and more likely to keep their weight stable or even lose weight. This is an exciting finding because there is no down side—it certainly can’t hurt to try it.”
But lack of vitamin D can lead to more serious problems than midriff bulge. “Over the past decade, research has shown that vitamin D fights cancers and diabetes, and inhibits autoimmune disorders from multiple sclerosis and lupus to inflammatory bowel disease,” DeRobertis says. “The best source of D comes from the sun—it stays in the body longer with greater lasting benefits.” Ten minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen three times a week should do the trick (but not between 10 am and 2 pm, when the sun is strongest). A caveat: we northern folk make little to no vitamin D from sunshine during the winter months and it’s hard to get enough vitamin D (800 to 1,000 IU a day) from diet alone. Cover both bases with a calcium/vitamin D supplement.