'We are what we eat'. All of us have heard this saying many times throughout our lives.
Our body is a machine. The food that we eat is what fuels it. Our body performs various functions every day. It requires nutrients which help in its smooth functioning.
That has to be obtained by food. We can ensure healthy functioning of our body by eating a diet rich in variety of nutrients.
Our body has the ability to produce some of the nutrients it requires to function normally. They are called as non-essential nutrients. But there are some nutrients which are required by our body. These have to be provided by the food we eat. There are basically six types of nutrient groups which are required for the overall growth and development of our body- Carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, proteins and water. While carbohydrates and fats are macro-nutrients, i.e. Bigger quantities of these are required by our body, Vitamins, minerals and proteins are micro-nutrients, which means they are required by our body in smaller quantities. All these nutrients have different functions in our body.
Among all, the most important micro-nutrients required by our body are vitamins. There are two types of vitamins. Fat soluble- Vitamin A, D, E and K. and Water soluble- Vitamins B and C. Vitamins play an important role in the digestion and other body functions. Different vitamins perform different functions of the body. A variety of foods should be included in the diet in order to ensure the intake of all the vitamins.
Most of the vitamins can be found in fruits and vegetables that we consume on a regular basis. But there is one vitamin which is abundantly found in meat- Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is an important nutrient required by our body. It is important for correct utilisation of calcium and phosphorous in our body, which results in good bone health. Vitamin D is what makes calcium absorb in the body. It can easily be concluded that you will not benefit eating foods rich in calcium if your body does not have enough Vitamin D to synthesise it. It is also important factor in ensuring that our heart, lungs and brain are working well. It also helps us fight infections.
Interestingly, our body can synthesise its own vitamin D in sunlight. That is why doctors recommend exposing our bodies to sunlight for certain time every day. This ensures that enough vitamin D is manufactured by our body and this in turn makes our body absorb calcium better. But not many people have the time to get some sunlight in the day. The other sources of Vitamin D are dairy products, liver, eggs, cod liver oil and oily fish.
The problem with these sources of Vitamin D are that they are mostly non-vegetarian, making it unsuitable for Vegetarians. But there are a lot of plant based sources which are good in vitamin D.
Here are a few excellent sources of Vitamin D which is suitable for vegetarians.
Milk and cheese
Milk is one of the biggest sources of Vitamin D. One cup of it provides 19% of the RDA for an adult. Cheese is also another rich source of Vitamin D which helps in overall functioning of the body.
Some mushrooms like the shitake and white mushrooms synthesise Vitamin D when they are exposed to enough sunlight during their growing stage. They may provide only 3-4% of the vitamins so make sure you add plenty of these in your diet.
Soy products like Tofu are the best way get vitamin D. Tofu is made from the solids of Soy milk. Including it in your diet can get you as much as 30% of the RDA of vitamin D. You can also try different soy products in the market like soy milk and Miso, if they suit your taste palate.
As there are very less natural sources on Vitamin D available, the best way for vegetarians to intake Vitamin D is to consume foods which are fortified with Vitamin D. Although Orange is a good source of vitamin c, it falls short on Vitamin D. Hence, packaged orange juice is often fortified with vitamin D, making it a best option for the vegetarians. Similarly, yogurt is also usually fortified with vitamin D to make it another source of vitamin D for vegetarians. Other fortified foods which can serve as excellent sources of vitamin D are Oatmeal and cereals.
As mentioned earlier, your body can synthesise vitamin D when it is exposed to direct sunlight. Daily 15 minutes of direct exposure without any sunscreen for at least three times a week will take care of your vitamin D intake. However, remember to expose yourself to soft sunlight of early mornings or late evenings. Harsh rays of the afternoon sun will damage your skin and create a host of other problems.