If dietitians had a motto, it might be “Food First.” I’m not sure who started that slogan, but loads of RDs and other health experts say it with such conviction, and some people try to wield it as anti-supplement fodder.
I’m a registered dietitian, and I’m here to say, that’s a genuinely silly motto. Of course, we consume our nutrition in the form of whole foods. First and multiple times a day. But then what? Food first assumes that your food is wholly sufficient for an entire array of essential and unique macro- and micronutrients that are responsible for an array of essential and unique functions in the human body every day.
I think I prefer the Girl Scouts’ motto of “Be prepared”or Gatorade’s “Is it in you?” These are more relevant to nutrition, particularly given that nationally representative clinical research data has repeatedly and clearly demonstrated that multiple vitamins (A, C, D, E, K) and minerals (calcium, magnesium, zinc) are missing from our food (diet). We aren’t consuming enough of these from our diet to achieve adequacy.
We need to mind these gaps, and for some nutrients, the food-first approach is grossly failing us. As the most widespread nutrient shortfall in our country, vitamin D is the worst victim.
You see, when we practice “food first” for vitamin D, 100% of Americans over the age of 2 fail to consume just 400 IU of vitamin D per day (you actually need a minimum of 3,000 IU daily to avoid vitamin D deficiency, but more on that later) from naturally occurring vitamin D food sources.
Let’s fold in fortified food sources. OK, that leaves 93% of Americans still unable to eat their way to just 400 IU of D daily. That’s about 300 million folks with a major vitamin D gap. I’d call that a nutrition emergency.
You can’t eat your way to daily vitamin D sufficiency. I mean, you could…but you wouldn’t want to, and it might break the bank. How about 50 glasses of milk? That will provide you with 5,000 IU of vitamin D, which is an optimal dose for most adults to achieve vitamin D sufficiency (i.e., a serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level of 50 ng/ml or higher).
Here are some other options for the top food sources of vitamin D (natural or fortified), listed by order of ridiculousness, that will provide you with 5,000 IU of vitamin D: