Vitamin D deficiency despite the sunny Riviera lifestyle

Morning sun on beachWe live in a region that gets 320-plus days of sunshine but even so, when daylight, sunlight and temperature levels fall, so do our energy levels. Lethargy and sluggishness are especially common at this time of year when we spend more time indoors, as is increased susceptibility to seasonal bugs. All this may be related to diminishing levels of vitamin D3, since 90% of our intake is produced when sunlight touches our skin.

Yet there’s much more at stake than just flu and fatigue. Low levels of vitamin D can significantly affect other key aspects of our health. Vitamin D is necessary to absorb calcium and has long been associated with bone strength and protection from osteoporosis. It also helps support mood and mental wellbeing, and there’s a well-established link between vitamin D shortage and depression and SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder). Research shows that having less than optimal levels makes us more prone to heart disease, respiratory illness, autoimmune diseases and cancer.

Vitamin D deficiency is now considered a worldwide pandemic, with studies indicating that up to 80% of the population of France is deficient. It’s easy to understand why. For one thing, contrary to popular belief, food is not a good source of vitamin D as only small amounts are found naturally in egg yolks, cheese and oily fish (sardines, mackerel and salmon), and sometimes added to foods like fortified breakfast cereals and milk. Secondly, our life-giving sun has been highly demonised by health campaigns. We’ve now become over-reliant on chemical sunscreens that protect our skin, but also inhibit the generation of vitamin D. It’s worth remembering that pregnant women, those with darker skin and the elderly have a higher than normal requirement, as do people with malabsorption conditions like Celiac and Crohn’s diseases.

Still, current recommendations for Vitamin D intake are likely too low for optimal health. As a licensed nutritionist, I am constantly surprised by how many of my clients have less than ideal levels – despite the sunny lifestyle on the Riviera. To find out for yourself, ask your doctor for a blood test (insurance should cover this) or send away for a private test (simple, easy and inexpensive at Genova Diagnostics –

Meanwhile, the best way to reach an optimal vitamin D level is with moderate sun exposure. Ten to fifteen minutes on a sunny day (closer to midday) is enough, and try to expose as much of your skin as possible. If you can’t be outside everyday, supplements may be a good option, but again, you need to consult a doctor or qualified nutritionist.

For other nutrition tips, join The Clever Kitchen’s monthly Q&A lunches at Stars ’n’ Bars in Monaco.
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