Are you dreading the long, scorching days of summer? Have you already started slathering on the sunscreen before you leave the house? Not so fast! The sun’s rays provide our bodies with its primary source of vitamin D, a nutrient essential for building and maintaining bones. Studies show that regular exposure to sunlight can increase vitamin D levels. In fact, 40 to 50% of the vitamin D in our bodies comes from the sun hitting our skin. About 13 minutes of casual exposure to midday summer sun is enough to produce a healthy level of vitamin D.The bad news: 50 to 80% of Americans may have low vitamin D levels. With greater emphasis on wearing sunscreen to prevent skin cancers, people are hesitant to expose unprotected skin to the sun’s rays. The recommended daily Intake of vitamin D is 600 IU (International Units) a day up to age 70 and 800 IU for those over 70. According to the National Health and Nutrition Evaluation Survey, most Americans may be getting only 200 IU of vitamin D a day including that from supplements. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to bone conditions such as osteoporosis in adults and rickets in children, which can lead to muscle weakness, bone pain and fractures. In addition to boosting bone health, vitamin D can also protect against cancer, heart disease and diabetes. So this summer enjoy the sun safely for a little while before putting on the sunscreen, but take care not to burn. If you can’t get enough sun because of a history of skin cancer or some other reason, check with your doctor or registered dietitian about taking a vitamin D supplement. Women who take a calcium supplement should consider one combined with vitamin D. Finally, eat plenty of vitamin D rich foods like eggs, fortified milk and cereal to boost vitamin D intake and keep your bones healthy and strong. Food Vitamin D (IU)Sockeye salmon, 3 ounces 447 Mackerel, 3 ounces 388Tuna, canned in water, 3 ounces 154Milk, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup 120Orange juice, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup 100Yogurt, vitamin D-fortified, 6 ounces 80Margarine, fortified, 1 tablespoon 60Liver, beef, cooked, 3.5 ounces 49Sardines, canned in oil, 2 sardines 46Egg, 1 large (vitamin D is found in yolk) 41Ready-to-eat cereal, vitamin D-fortified 40Kristin Poda is a June 2011 graduate of the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dietetic Internship program in Dallas who completed a community nutrition rotation with Neva Cochran in May.