As one of the big lettered vitamins, vitamin D stands out as a vitally important bit of nutrition, specifically for the very young and the very old. We hear right away in school that vitamin D is critical for our bones, but we don’t exactly understand why that is. As vegetarians and vegans, we especially need to be aware of where our vitamin D is coming from and how best to find it, because if we don’t know how to get it, who does? Here’s the importance of vitamin D.

Remember when you were a kid and your mom told you to go outside and play in the sun? Sure, she was incredibly unfair because the air outside is fresh and the sun is bright and hurts your eyes, but she had a point to it all. The most common and effective source of vitamin D happens to be that big burning ball of gas in the skin: the sun.

See, vitamin D by itself doesn’t do much, but when combined with calcium it becomes vital. What it actually does is make it easier for your body to handle calcium and use it properly to strengthen bones, so when you’re young and your bones are still growing, getting enough calcium partnered with vitamin D is of utmost importance, lest you find yourself with underdeveloped bones and a disease called rickets, which we thankfully hardly see anymore. Vitamin D also seems to play a big part in helping stop depression and stress, so soak it while you can!

This is all well and good, but we undervalue how simple vitamin D is to get for most, and how hard it is to get for others. Humans can produce vitamin D naturally in their body by exposing their skin to sunlight three or more times a week for 30 minutes. We’re so good at this in fact that if we do this for those aforementioned three or more times a week during the summer, we’ll have produced enough vitamin D to last us through the winter. Amazing!

The reason so many people now suffer from vitamin D deficiency is because of many reasons. The first is that we just aren’t going outside anymore, so we’re not getting exposed to the sun. The second is that when we are exposed to the sun, we’re now generally wearing sunscreen, which completely blocks the whole point of the sun anyway. The third reason is a bit more fair though, and that’s that many cities, particularly in the northern hemisphere, are either constantly cloudy or have the sun blocked by smog. Still, if you see the opportunity to head out and get some raw, pure sunlight, you should go for it!

Part of why sunlight is so valuable is because vitamin D just isn’t really found in much else. Since our bodies do such a good job producing it, there’s hardly any need for there to be a substitute, but it’s not impossible to track something down. Eggs and dairy products have a nice handful of vitamin D to them, but that does no good for a vegan now does it? Worse yet, while the dairy industry actively adds vitamin D to vats of milk, the consistency is wildly uneven, so some batches could have way more than you’d need whereas other batches have hardly any.

While sunlight is still the best option, vitamin D supplements are certainly available for those who need it, specifically the elderly as the human body does eventually start to lack the ability to produce vitamin D in effective amounts. It’s a good idea to ask your doctor if the supplements are right for you. Trust those doctors; they seem to know what they’re doing!

So then, how many of you kept getting the urge to head outside the entire time you read this article? I didn’t as I look outside my window and see dark, gray skies flowing with the usual torrential downpour, but I’m certainly hopefully that someday soon the sun will pop out and I’ll be able to get my fill. How about you? Are you getting enough vitamin D in your life?