Autumn is upon us and as much as we might like the season for all the wonderful food that it can provide, we will miss the sun and not just the heat! More importantly, we will miss the ability of the sun to work on exposed skin to make Vitamin D.
Our bodies are wonderful things. They can make a form of Vitamin D that the body can use to help in the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus which helps make bones and teeth stronger, as most people know. What is less well-known, and something that is still being developed as an idea, is the role of Vitamin D in helping to fight those winter maladies like colds and flus. One of the things that I love about the study of food and nutrition is that new things are being discovered all the time and our ideas and knowledge are constantly evolving. Brilliant!
Sunlight as a source of Vitamin D is by far more important than dietary sources. These are mainly things like oily fish, some nuts and seeds, and fortified cereals, and spreads; lots of which are not favourites for people to eat on a regular basis. With Vitamin D being a fat-soluble vitamin, we do not need a daily supply like Vitamins B and C, but when the sun goes our supplies can get low.
It has been shown that by the time most people come back from their annual two-week break in the sun that their Vitamin D levels are getting back to where they should be after a long, dark winter. Those of us in the UK, particularly in the North, and those who would rather not venture outside in the cold have less exposure to sunlight than in other parts of the world. Also, total sunblock, while being great to protect skin from harmful sun, will also block Vitamin D production so we have to do, and eat things to help top up our Vitamin D levels.
One of the most brilliant new ideas is Mushrooms. It has been discovered that if you expose mushrooms to sunlight for at least 60 minutes, it can create a source of Vitamin D, just like we can, and that it is not destroyed during cooking!
Mushrooms, particularly varieties like porcini, are also reasonable sources of protein. Great news for those who wish to cut down on animal protein sources – though you do have to eat them with other protein foods to get the best from them – more in a future blog – so rich stews with added mushrooms, risottos, garlic mushrooms and mushrooms stuffed with stilton and walnuts (!) are brilliant ways of helping yourself get through the winter. I even saw mushroom mince being sold in a supermarket. Don’t forget though, mushrooms contain a lot of water, so you may need more than you think.
So, if the lack of sun in the next few months is getting you down, crack out the mushrooms and fortified cereals for breakfast, sunlit mushrooms on fortified toast spread with fortified margarine and sprinkled with seeds for lunch, and a grilled mackerel and egg salade niçoise with mushrooms for the evening meal. Yummy!!
Till next time