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Vitamin D - Demystified


Growing up in Florida, I was always jealous of the snow day.  With the exception of the occasional life-threatening hurricane, huddled in a windowless room with a flashlight and a battery-operated radio (which is about as fun as it sounds) we always had to go to school!

Since I moved to New York, I now know the true meaning of a snow day - it is a day off for the kids and a pain in the neck for working parents, nannies and mailmen!  This year, on one of the too many snow storms we've had already this season, I went sledding for the first time, built a snow man, watched TV and sipped hot chocolate.  I felt like a kid again!  But after weeks of icy roads, unusable sidewalks and elusive street parking, I am ready for Spring.  Winter is dismal.  I know why birds and old people fly south for the winter.

Seeking sunshine when it is cold and gray is not just good sense, it is good science.  We get more Vitamin D from a few hours in the sun than a glass of milk.  Vitamin D has recently been the talk of the town in the nutrition world.  At the American Dietetic Association Food and Nutrition Conference, I attended a session discussing the role of vitamin D in our diet and the alarming increase of Vitamin D insufficiency.  In addition to  aiding your body in the absorption of calcium and promoting bone growth, increased levels of Vitamin D has been linked to a lower risk of disease.

Many health professionals claim the recommended levels of Vitamin D (set at 600 IU) may be too low.   These recommendations impact the fortification of many foods and multivitamins.  Milk is a popular source of Vitamin D, but it too is fortified.  Other dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, are typically made with unfortified milk, so read labels carefully.

As we spend less time in the sun and more money on sunblock, our Vitamin D intake has been falling.  Like so many other health conundrums, if you spend too much time in the sun you risk cancer, but if you don’t get enough sun exposure to produce vitamin D, you risk other chronic diseases.

While there are few food sources rich in vitamin D, I should have just trusted my grandfather, who knew best about most things.  My Saba's kiddush club snack of herring and Canadian whiskey was high in alcohol, but also high in Vitamin D.  Fatty fish flesh (say that three times fast) from mackerel, salmon, sardines and fish liver oils are among the best natural sources of Vitamin D.  Kosher consumers have an array of canned and jarred fish products readily available.

If you got a thing for herring, I recently discovered Bar Harbor Foods line of OU-certified smoked fishes at the market and can't get enough of their smoked herring in Cabernet wine sauce.   For traditionalists Vita Food Products carries a fine selection of pickled herrings.

Here are three recipes to give your pickled herring a pick me up and please share your favorite way to eat herring in the comments below:

Pickled Herring Bruschetta

Olive Oil Poached Herring

Herring Melt