Vitamin D

Getting enough vitamin D is important for keeping us healthy.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient. It is important because it:

  • controls calcium levels in the body
  • is needed for healthy bones, muscles and teeth.

You make vitamin D whenever you get sunlight (specifically UVB) on your skin. But, because of the risks of sunburn and skin cancer, you need to be careful how much sunlight you get.

The lighter your skin, the less sunlight is needed on your skin to make vitamin D.

Get your vitamin D and stay SunSmart

If you’re sensible in the sun you can get your vitamin D and avoid getting sunburnt. Here’s how.

From September to April (daylight saving months)

  • Protect your skin and eyes from UV radiation, especially between 10am and 4pm - Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap.
  • Be active outside for 30 minutes a day before 10am or after 4pm. Most of you will not need sun protection on your skin at these times.

May to August

  • Be active outside for 30 minutes a day in the middle of the day. You don’t need sun protection for your skin. If possible, have your face, arms and hands in the sun.

All year round

Use sun protection all year round when outside if:

  • you have a history of skin cancer, sun damage, or are taking medicines that affect your skin's sensitivity to light (photosensitivity)
  • you are in the mountains, out on the water, or near highly reflective surfaces such as snow and ice.

Vitamin D in food

Some foods contain small amounts of vitamin D. You can get it naturally from:

  • oily fish (eg, salmon, tuna, sardines, eel and warehou)
  • milk and milk products
  • eggs
  • liver.

In New Zealand, some foods may also have vitamin D added. These include:

  • margarine and fat spreads
  • some reduced-fat dairy products (eg, milk, dried milk and yoghurt)
  • plant-based dairy substitutes (eg, soy drinks)
  • liquid meal replacements.

Check the ingredients lists on these foods to see if extra vitamin D has been added.

Vitamin D deficiency

If you think you may be vitamin D deficient, talk to your doctor - they may prescribe a vitamin D capsule.

If vitamin D levels are too low you may not get any obvious symptoms. However, you may experience:

  • muscle and/or joint pain or weakness
  • bone pain
  • tiredness or fatigue
  • depression.

Left untreated, severe vitamin D deficiency can be linked to serious health conditions.

Read more about vitamin D deficiency.

You may be at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency if:

  • you have naturally very dark skin. This includes people from Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Middle East
  • you have little or no exposure to the sun. This includes:
    • avoiding the sun because you have a high risk of skin cancer or are on medicine that makes your skin more sensitive to the sun (your pharmacist or doctor will have advised you)
    • wearing clothing that covers a lot of your skin (eg, veils or other clothing covering your legs, arms and face)
    • spending a lot of time inside eg, you are house bound or in hospital
    • working in a job where it’s hard to get outside eg, you’re a night shift worker.
  • you have liver or kidney disease, or are on medication that affects vitamin D levels.

If you think you may be vitamin D deficient, talk to your doctor - they may prescribe a vitamin D capsule.

To find out more read the Ministry of Health and Cancer Society of New Zealand Consensus Statement on Vitamin D and Sun Exposure in New Zealand.

There is also a Companion Statement on vitamin D and Sun Exposure in Pregnancy and Infancy in New Zealand.

Read the Ministry of Health’s fact sheet on Vitamin D and your pregnancy and Vitamin D and your baby.