Natural health: Vitamin D supplements and brown or raw sugar v white sugar

Megan Sheppard gives her advice on getting enough vitamin D naturally and whether or not there is any nutritional benefit to using brown or raw sugar over regular white sugar.

Q. I want to supplement with vitamin D, but am unsure of what dosage I should take. I don’t get much vitamin D from sunlight because I burn easily and use a high to protect my skin.

A. Vitamin D comes in three main forms – Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), and synthetic vitamin D (calcitriol). 

While calcitriol is the active form of vitamin D, it is always better to choose a natural supplement rather than a synthesised one, since these are utilised more effectively by the body. 

Vitamin D2 is not naturally produced by humans which means that it is fairly inefficient at increasing levels of vitamin D in the blood, so vitamin D3 is the one you should look for.

Vitamin D3 is produced naturally in our skin after we have been exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) light. 

It also occurs naturally in certain foods, such as cod liver oil, oily fish (mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna), oysters, dairy products, mushrooms, and sprouted seeds.

The sun is crucial in vitamin D production although it isn’t directly transferred to our skin through sun exposure, rather our bodies synthesise vitamin D as a result of being exposed to UVB light. 

Vitamin D3 is converted to calcidiol in the liver (which is what doctors test for in our blood when we check our vitamin D levels), which is then converted to calcitriol in the cells.

Calcitriol is necessary for the metabolism of calcium, regulation of cell growth, apoptosis (necessary cell death), gene activation, the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, and immune function. 

You are wise to consider supplementation due to lack of sunshine exposure, not to mention the fact that people who need to wear sunscreen are effectively blocking up to 95% of UVB.

The good news is that since you burn easily, you will likely need less vitamin D than people who can tolerate the sun better — the darker your natural skin colour, the more D3 you require.

For those who don’t turn beet red in the sun, it is recommended that you get around 10-15 minutes exposure daily without sunscreen preferably between 10am to 11am or 1pm to 2pm.

You can keep the sunscreen on your face though, as it is the torso, arms, and legs that produce the most vitamin D, with the face and hands being the least productive. 

Vitamin D3 dosage recommendations for healthy individuals are as follows:

* Children under 12 months —1,000IU daily

* Children between 12 months and 15 years of age should aim for around 1,000IU per 11kg of body weight

* 15 years upwards — a minimum of 5,000IU

* Pregnant and breastfeeding women — around 6,000IU

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to rickets, seasonal affective disorder , tuberculosis, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, digestive ailments, various cancers (breast, lung, prostate, pancreas, colorectal, and ovaries), osteoporosis, and coughs and colds.

Q. Is there any nutritional benefit to using brown or raw sugar over regular white sugar? Surely sugar is sugar.

A. White or table sugar is the regular type of sugar found in most households. 

It is granulated and highly refined, with no real nutritional value. 

Raw sugar is a light brown colour and is minimally processed, although it still has very little in the way of nutritional benefit whether it is organically grown or not.

Brown sugar is different again from raw sugar in that it derives its darker colour and richer flavour from molasses. 

This happens either as a result of molasses remaining after processing occurs, or the molasses may be added back in afterwards. 

The molasses accounts for the presence of some minerals, but only in minute amounts.

Blackstrap molasses is the product of a third boiling of the sugar cane juice and actually has significant nutrient value with the least amount of sugar since most of the sucrose crystals have already been extracted.


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