WIC food packages and nutrition education are the chief means by which WIC affects the dietary quality and habits of participants. Did you know that these two benefits are among the top reasons for continued participation in WIC (in addition to the work of WIC personnel!), and that consistent 4-year participation in WIC was associated with better diet quality?
Eye on Nutrition (EON) brings focus to the foods and nutrients in the WIC food packages to shine a light on their importance to WIC participants. This EON focuses on vitamin D - a nutrient of public health concern and the important role it plays in various life stages from pregnancy to breastfeeding and throughout childhood, as well as for overall health.
Given the importance of calcium and vitamin D, and how interconnected they are, EON is looking at each separately (check out the EON on calcium). Through nutrition education, WIC staff can help participants understand the importance of this vitamin and mineral dynamic duo for themselves and their children.
Be sure to check out the calcium and vitamin D-rich recipes members of the WIC community have shared with us.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found naturally in a few foods, added to others, taken as a supplement, or generated within our body from the sun’s UV light. However, a number of factors limit the amount of vitamin D people can make from sunlight exposure, including the use of sunscreen, important in preventing sunburn and skin cancer.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, and maintains proper calcium and phosphate levels to help build and maintain bones. Among other things, it’s also needed for healthy skin and eyesight, and plays a role in reducing inflammation and regulating processes such as blood pressure, cell growth and immune function.
For these reasons, vitamin D is essential during all life stages, including those relevant to the WIC population.
- Adequate nutritional vitamin D status during pregnancy is important for maternal well-being and fetal skeletal development, tooth enamel formation, and perhaps general fetal growth and development.
- Breast milk can support an infant’s nutrient needs for about the first 6 months of life, with the exception of vitamin D (and potentially iron). Exclusively or partially breastfed infants should be supplemented daily with vitamin D shortly after birth for the first year of life.
Since infant formulas in the United States are fortified with vitamin D, fully formula fed infants will typically not need a vitamin D supplement. However, regardless of feeding method, all families should discuss their infant’s individual needs with their healthcare provider.
- Vitamin D helps to improve bone health, especially in children and adolescents when bone mass is being built and prevents rickets, a condition of softening of the bones that occurs in growing children.
- Vitamin D also helps to promote bone health and prevent the onset of osteoporosis in adults.
A number of WIC-eligible foods contain vitamin D, though not all foods may be available in every State, US Territory, or Indian Tribal Organization due to the flexibility they have in selecting foods for their WIC food packages. Among the WIC-eligible foods that provide vitamin D are:
- Canned fish, especially salmon, light tuna and sardines
- Cow’s and goat’s milk, as well as milk alternatives:
- Yogurt (some; not all manufacturers add vitamin D to their yogurts, check the Nutrition Facts label)
- Soy beverage
- Some cheeses (check the Nutrition Facts label)
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Fortified 100% juices (some; check the Nutrition Facts label)
- Egg yolks
- Some mushrooms (look for a vitamin D claim or check the Nutrition Facts label)
Check out this list to see how much vitamin D is in these and other nutrient-dense foods.
Is Vitamin D on the Nutrition Facts Label?
When educating, some important points from the Dietary Guidelines regarding vitamin D to keep in mind include:
- Consuming the recommended amount of seafood and choosing foods that are fortified with vitamin D, including milk, fortified soy beverages, and fortified soy yogurt, and some whole-grain cereals, can help adults meet their needs.
- Vitamin D recommendations are harder to achieve through natural sources from diet alone and would require consuming foods and beverages fortified with vitamin D.
This makes using the Nutrition Facts label that much more important for identifying and choosing foods that are good sources of vitamin D. You can find fact sheets for vitamins and minerals that provide action steps for consuming a diet rich in vitamins and minerals (including vitamin D), and charts that identify food sources of each vitamin and mineral.
You can also use this list of vitamin D food sources to help identify foods for your participants to include, or get more of, and these recipes to help incorporate these foods in their diet.
The Dietary Guidelines also note that, in many cases, taking a vitamin D supplement may be appropriate. Women participants, and parents and caretakers of infants and children should discuss the need for a supplement with their healthcare provider.