For a long time we have known how important it is to eat a varied and healthy balanced diet.

We have also known that a multivitamin and mineral supplement is a good way to make up for any deficiencies in your diet: think of it as a nutritional insurance policy.

One of those vitamins that we may not be getting enough of is vitamin D—may be more important than we knew before.vitamin d

Up until recently, most people’s opinion of vitamin D was that it was just a vitamin that helped the body use calcium to build strong bones and teeth.

Vitamin D foods play a role in helping prevent depression, skin cancer, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease. It can help your immune system, help with cell growth, and affects your body’s ability to produce insulin. That’s bad news for the nearly 80 percent of all Americans who aren’t getting enough vitamin D.

Many dairy products like milk are fortified with vitamin D. However, most women don’t consume nearly enough servings of low fat dairy every day to meet their needs for this vitamin.

Our bodies can manufacture vitamin D when we are exposed to sunshine, but the amount of sunshine exposure we need for adequate amounts of vitamin D is far too harmful for us to risk.

We’re far more likely to suffer sun damage and risk of skin cancer than we are to get the amounts of vitamin D we need. And if you’re a woman of color, you produce 90 percent less vitamin D because of the increased melanin in your skin. Worse yet, there are very few natural sources of vitamin D.

To get the vitamin D you need, you should take a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement every day that contains 1,000 IU of vitamin D.

Look for supplements that specify D3, the form that is easiest for your body to metabolize. (D2 is derived from plants and harder for our bodies to use.)

If you have a family history of cancer, depression, or heart disease, ask your doctor about running blood tests to measure your levels of vitamin D. Because we know that vitamin D can play an important role in preventing these diseases, your doctor may want you to take higher doses if you are deficient.