Vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, and for good reason. Our bodies naturally synthesize it from sun exposure. However, when winter comes and the days get shorter, how can we make sure we’re getting enough to stay healthy?

Vitamin D plays an important role in our health and Health Canada recommends 400 international units, or IU, of vitamin D daily for infants, 600 IU for children aged one to adults aged 70, and 800 IU for adults over 70.

During the winter months, getting our dose from the sun can be difficult. Pharmacist Jamie Flynn says there are other ways to get vitamin D.

“Usually in the pharmacy there's 400 unit vitamin D tablets and also 1000 unit vitamin D tablets which would meet the requirements for a day,” says Flynn.

Supplements come in various forms, including pills, drops, and chews.

Dietitian Angela Dufour says we are also able to get some vitamin D through diet.

“All of our dairy, some of even our dairy alternatives like soy milk, cheeses, yogurts are made with fortified milk or milk alternative products will have modest amounts of vitamin D as well,” says Dufour.

Dufour says it's important to read labels and choose these fortified products because not many foods contain vitamin D naturally.

“Things like orange juice, other non-dairy products, soy milks, almond milks etc., look for those that are actually fortified with vitamin D and some may actually have about 50 per cent of the recommendation, or about 300 IUs of vitamin D a day,” says Dufour.

Vitamin D is touted for its ability to help the body use calcium and phosphorous to build and maintain strong bones and teeth – making the vitamin even more important as we age.

“As we get past basically the age of 35 our bone strength starts to decrease, so osteoporosis is a risk for people as they get older, usually into the 60s, 70s, 80s is when people are at a higher risk of breaking bones,” says Flynn.

Dufour says vitamin D could have other benefits according to recent research, including anti-inflammatory properties and boosting immune function.

“So go beyond vitamin C and now let's start thinking about getting some extra vitamin D,” says Dufour.

The best way to keep your sunshine vitamin levels in check, even when the sun isn't shining, is to take vitamin D3 – D3 is the most absorbable form, but it's derived from sheep's lanolin and cod liver oil, so it's not an option for vegans.

Dufour says vitamin D2, is a plant based derivative and is an acceptable equivalent.