Skip to main content

Vitamin D: A Quick Guide to This Nutrient of Concern

By: on
nutrition-label-5

With the new nutrition label regulations, we’re looking at big changes in vitamin D labeling—including mandatory nutrition labeling and a doubling of the Daily Value. Although the “sunshine vitamin” can be produced in the skin with sufficient sun exposure, lifestyle factors like less time outdoors and widespread use of sunscreen mean that Americans are struggling to get enough vitamin D. Read on to learn how much vitamin D we actually need, the best food sources, and which labeling changes impact this nutrient of concern. 

Vitamin D Declared a Nutrient of Public Health Concern

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 calls out vitamin D as one of the five nutrients of public health concern for Americans, along with calcium, potassium, dietary fiber, and for certain population groups, iron.1 A nutrient of public health concern is defined as a nutrient that is underconsumed by the population and whose underconsumption is associated with health risks. Due to vitamin D’s role in promoting calcium absorption, a vitamin D deficiency carries with it the same risks as a deficiency in calcium.

Nutrition Label Changes for Vitamin D

The new nutrition label regulations specify that all five of the nutrients of public health concern must be listed on the nutrition label. This means that vitamins A and C are being replaced by vitamin D and potassium as mandatory label nutrients, which will help encourage consumer awareness of these two new nutrients of concern. Calcium, iron, and dietary fiber will remain on the label.

In addition, the mandatory label vitamins and minerals must now be declared by weight, as well as % DV, on the nutrition label. For vitamin D, there is also a unit change—from International Units (IU) to micrograms (mcg), although IU may be listed voluntarily in parentheses. The DV of vitamin D is also undergoing a significant change—a doubling from 400 IU (10 mcg) to 20 mcg  (800 IU).

Woman reading a milk bottle label.

For manufacturers who currently voluntarily declare the % DV of vitamin D on any products, it’s important to be aware of the impact of this change on the new label’s % DV and any related claims. For example, an existing product claiming “excellent source of vitamin D” with 20% DV under the prior DV of 400 IU would no longer qualify for that claim, according to the new regulations. Under the new DV, the product would contain only 10% DV of vitamin D.

In this case, a manufacturer could choose to make no changes to the formulation, and simply update the nutrition label to 10% DV and the claim to “good source of vitamin D.”  The other option is to add a custom nutrient premix (or reformulate the current one) in order to maintain the high vitamin D claim and % DV on the nutrition label.

Why We Need Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin best known for its important relationship with calcium. Vitamin D can be obtained from certain foods and dietary supplements, but it can also be produced in the skin if there is sufficient exposure to the sun’s UV rays. 

Since vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the intestine, a deficiency in vitamin D is associated with a softening of the bones (i.e., osteomalacia in adults and rickets in children), as well as osteoporosis and arthritis.

Vitamin D is involved in a number of functions in the body, including:

  • Calcium absorption
  • Development of teeth and bones
  • Cell growth and maturation
  • Immune system regulation
  • Nerve and muscle function

The groups with the highest risks of insufficient vitamin D include breastfed infants, people with limited sun exposure, and people with dark skin. Also at risk are older adults, in part due to their decreased ability to synthesize vitamin D, and those with inflammatory bowel disease, which can reduce the intestine’s ability to absorb fat.

Woman lying down drinking a glass of milk.

How Much Vitamin D Do We Really Need?

For vitamin D, the new DV of 20 mcg (800 IU) has been set at the highest population RDA to help ensure sufficient intakes. Adults ages 71 and older have an RDA of 20 mcg (800 IU), while children older than one year and adults through age 70 have an RDA of 15 mcg (600 IU).

Since there is insufficient data to set an RDA for ages 0 to 12 months, an Adequate Intake (AI) is used instead. The AI for this age range is 10 mcg (400 IU).

Recommended Vitamin D Intakes for Different Groups

Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating
0-12 months 10 mcg (400 IU) 10 mcg (400 IU)    
1-13 years 15 mcg (600 IU) 15 mcg (600 IU)    
14-18 years 15 mcg (600 IU) 15 mcg (600 IU) 15 mcg (600 IU) 15 mcg (600 IU)
19-50 years 15 mcg (600 IU) 15 mcg (600 IU) 15 mcg (600 IU) 15 mcg (600 IU)
51-70 years 15 mcg (600 IU) 15 mcg (600 IU)    
71+ years 20 mcg (800 IU) 20 mcg (800 IU)    

 

Tabletop with fish, cheese and mushrooms.

Food Sources of Vitamin D

Since vitamin D is found naturally in only a few categories of foods, fortification represents an important opportunity for food manufacturers to address this public health need.

Foods naturally rich in vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish – especially salmon, trout, and mackerel
  • Fish oil – such as cod liver oil
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks

Products commonly fortified with vitamin D include:

  • Milk
  • Soymilk
  • Orange juice
  • Yogurt
  • Margarine
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Nutrition bars and shakes
  • Infant formulas

Mushrooms can also be good sources of vitamin D when they’re treated with UV light. Since mushrooms can produce their own vitamin D with sufficient UV exposure, some mushroom growers have added a UV-treatment step to their operations to boost the vitamin D content of their products. 

Brighten Their Day with Vitamin D

With vitamin D now required on the nutrition label, it will be easier than ever for consumers to gauge their vitamin D intake and compare product labels to make the healthiest food choices. For consumers who may not be getting enough seafood or sunshine, products fortified with vitamin D can make all the difference!

Download our Guide to Nutrients of Concern

References

1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th Ed. (2015). Retrieved from https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

Get the best of The Watson delivered to your inbox