Toast with Irish butter and sardines: simple and smart

Vitamin D: Making sure we have enough calcium for our bone health ‘is just as important for the adult as the child’

Make a mushroom omelette and have it with that glass of milk – liver and tuna are good for vitamin D too

Somewhere along the line, in a search for a solution to the fact that Irish people are deficient in Vitamin D, we ditched the can of sardines, and swapped it for a return ticket to Fuerteventura.

The problem is, nice and all as a week of warm sunshine is in February, it isn't enough to solve the Vitamin D dilemma. Here in Ireland, our geographical location simply means we don't get enough sunshine to top up our Vitamin D. And not having enough Vitamin D means that you feel awful.

You feel a sense of weakness, often followed by joint pain. “People come in to the surgery and think they have Lyme’s Disease,” my doctor tells me. Oftentimes, they will also feel depressed, and may be mis-diagnosed as having fibromyalgia.

If your bones ache, then you might not be getting enough Vitamin D to help you absorb calcium, a deficiency that can ultimately lead to osteoporosis. When the earliest research into vitamins was published in the 1920s, people quickly assumed that they could correct any deficiency by taking supplements, or eating fortified foods.


But, as Nina Teichholz points out in her book, Big Fat Surprise, "a number of essential vitamins, including calcium and the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, K, and E, cannot be fully absorbed if eaten unaccompanied by fat. Without the saturated fat in milk, for example, calcium forms insoluble "soaps" in the intestine instead.

“And the vitamins in fortified cereal can only be well absorbed if consumed with milk that has not been striped of its fat content: the same is true of the vitamins in a salad with a fat-free dressing. That is why mothers in the early 20th-century dispensed cod-liver oil to their children as a dose of protection against sickness; the fat is what made the spoonful of vitamins go down.”

Yep. Mother was right, once again.

And one of the pioneering researchers into the deficiencies of the Western diet, Weston A Price, considered the fat-soluble Vitamins A and D to be "the key components of healthy diets".

So, just what do we need to be doing to make sure that we feel as good as possible, and make sure our bones don’t ache? Well, opening up that can of sardines and putting it on some hot toast slathered with Irish butter is a simple, smart start.

And while organ meats, such as beef liver, have become extremely unfashionable with domestic cooks in recent years, they serve to deliver Vitamin D. I only wish more people knew how easy and fast it is to cook liver, and how delicious it can be when it isn’t overcooked.

Fish and seafood will also do the trick, in particular good oily fish like mackerel and tuna. Eggs, and in particular egg yolks, are vital, and even though many adults assume that milk is a drink for children, you should enjoy a glass or two regularly, especially with those sardines on toast. And mushrooms are good, so make a mushroom omelette and have it with that glass of milk. Tofu, as a soya-based product, also delivers Vitamin D.

The question of Vitamin D deficiency is only going to grow as our population ages. Making sure we have enough calcium for our bone health "is just as important for the adult as the child", writes Harold McGee in his classic work, On Food and Cooking.

McGee goes on: ‘Even fully formed bone undergoes constant reshaping as the stress on it varies during life, and its minerals are constantly being replaced. For these reasons, an adequate dietary supply of minerals and of Vitamin D remains important long after actual growth is over.’

And while we complain about our lack of sunshine, you also need to make sure that you are getting at least 20 minutes of light per day, so grab the dog’s lead and head out for that walk.

Your bones will thank you.

  • John McKenna is editor at Ireland The Best (HarperCollins) by John and Sally McKenna is out now