Loving the BITE: Fish Tacos & Vitamin D for upcoming Winter Months
I just returned from my annual beach road-trip vacation. For the week I was on the beach, I had 3 main objectives: play lots with my kids including swimming, sand castling, and wave dunking, surf some waves on our family surf board, and find and eat the most delicious fish tacos southern California has to offer. Done and done.
Except, now I just want more fish tacos. So, this beach goal became my goal this week. Since I live in land-locked Golden, CO, I decided I would learn how to make my own. Here’s what I came up with. In addition, I’ll use this recipe with a small alternative to it to provide my annual Vitamin D recommendations for Fall and Winter.
Recipe of the Week: Delicious Fish Tacos
- 1 pound fish (white fish like mahi mahi for traditional fish tacos, or wild salmon for extra Vitamin D)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1/2-1 tablespoons chili powder
- 1/2-1 jalapeno, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 8 corn tortillas
- 1/4 cup Natural Sour Cream
- 1/2 cup Tomato Salsa
- Shredded white cabbage
- Chopped tomato
- Thinly sliced red onion
- Chopped cilantro leaves
- Hot Sauce
- Fresh Lime wedges
- Salt, to taste
- Mango slices and/or pineapple chunks
Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Place fish in a medium size dish or resealable bag. Mix oil, lime juice, chili powder, jalapeno, and cilantro and pour over the fish. Let marinate for 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove fish from marinade place on preheated grill, flesh side down. Grill about 4 minutes on first side and flip. Then 1 minute on 2nd side. Remove and allow to rest 5 minutes. Fish should flake with a fork.
Place tortillas (single layer) on the grill for ~15-20 seconds, until warmed through. Mix salsa and sour cream. Place a dollop of mixture on each tortilla and spread evenly. Then, place approximately 2 ounces fish (size of ½ deck of cards) on tortilla. Garnish with shredded white cabbage, onion, tomatoes and cilantro. Squeeze on lime juice. Add a dash of salt, to taste. For a tropical flavor, you can add mango or pineapple. Enjoy!
This week, my taste buds got the best of me. I wanted to make this post my annual reminder about Vitamin D levels among athletes and how best to supplement Vitamin D, if needed, throughout the Fall and Winter (for those of us at a latitude north of Atlanta, GA, anyway). However, I also really wanted fish tacos, and wanted to share them with you. So, you’ve got a recipe that’s delicious but not necessarily high in Vitamin D. If you want to add more Vitamin D (and you probably should want to…keep reading), simply make these salmon tacos rather than traditional white fish ones.
It’s long been known that Vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium, and therefore, for bone health. In fact, it was historically thought that the main benefit of Vitamin D was to reduce risk of rickets. In the last two decades, however, more and more research is finding that Vitamin D’s reach goes far beyond bones. In fact, it has significant implications on overall health and wellness, respiratory infections, athletic performance, and mood.
If you’ve never had your Vitamin D levels checked, you may be in for a surprise. And, if you find your motivation and mood wavering and eventually diminishing each year in the cold-weather months, you may just find out why.
In fact, it’s not only an issue for athletes, but it’s estimated that at least 25-50% of adults in the United States are deficient in Vitamin D; which is a bit ironic, as it is the only vitamin that our bodies are able to produce (with adequate sunlight). However, it may be this ability to produce it that gives us a false sense of optimism and a lack of urgency in eating Vitamin D food sources and supplementing. There are many reasons why we become deficient, and even more reasons to make sure you’re not.
Here’s what every cyclist needs to know:
Vitamin D for Athletic Performance:
Reduces Inflammation: After intense exercise, elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines circulate throughout athletes’ bodies. Vitamin D, along with omega-3 fats from fish oil, reduce the production of cytokines, while increasing the production of anti-inflammatory components. This can improve recovery, reduce fatigue, and improve overall health.
Improves Immune Function: In studies, Vitamin D deficiency has been correlated with colds, influenza, and respiratory infections. On the other hand, adequate levels of Vitamin D trigger our immune system macrophage cells to release antibacterial peptides, which play a role in infection prevention. If you want to stay well this Winter, get your Vitamin D.
Prevents Muscle Weakness and Fat Accumulation in Muscles: Vitamin D deficiency is associated with elevated fat accumulation in muscles, which in turn reduces muscle strength and performance. In at least one study, the deficiency and loss of muscle strength was demonstrated independent of muscle mass…muscle was actually displaced with fat AND weaker than it should be. What’s more, there is evidence that supplementation of Vitamin D in deficient persons increases fast twitch muscle fibers in number and size, and reduces injuries (in athletes) and falls (in elderly).
Improves Overall Performance: Studies have shown a steady decline in performance in low-sunlight months, improved performance when athletes are exposed to UV rays (1950s), and peak performance when blood levels of 25 (OH) D are at or above 50 ng/mL. What’s more, maximum oxygen uptake, or VO2 Max, drops in athletes in months when less UV rays reach the Earth, such as in late Fall months.
Vitamin D for Overall Wellness:
In addition to athletic performance, Vitamin D’s also important for:
Regulating Blood Pressure
Normalizing Blood Sugars and Insulin
Preventing Cancer, especially bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate, and rectal cancer
Steady Moods and Prevention of Depression
Now that we know how important Vitamin D is, it’s no wonder that many experts believe the recommended amounts, and “normal ranges” for lab values should be much higher than previously established. But what other factors contribute to our seemingly inadequate intake and levels?
- We simply live, work, and even workout indoors too much. Think about the Winter months…how many times have you complained that you get to work and leave work in the dark? It’s during these short-day months that you must proactively get out and get some sunlight – take advantage of lunch breaks or any daytime opportunity to get outside.
- There aren’t many good food sources for Vitamin D, and of those there are, we’re not eating enough. You can find vitamin D in: Herring (1613 IU in 3.5 oz.), Wild Salmon (981 IU in 3.5 oz.), Tuna canned in Oil (200 IU in 3.5 oz.), Milk (100 IU in 8 oz.), Eggs (18 IU in 1 large), Cheese (12 IU in 1 oz.). Many of our foods are also now lower in Vitamin D – farm-raised fish contain lower amounts than wild fish and caged hens produce less in eggs than those that are not caged.
- Vitamin D synthesis works best in healthy cells. Cells in adults who are obese or even overweight, who are not in good health, or who are elderly may not make as much Vitamin D as they should. In many cases, those who need the benefits of Vitamin D the most make the least. Furthermore, those with darker skin pigmentation make less Vitamin D than those with lighter skin pigmentation.
- While sunscreen is obviously needed to reduce risk of skin cancer and harm to skin, it also reduces Vitamin D production.
How to Increase Your Vitamin D:
- Get some sun (within reason). It only takes 10-30 minutes of midday of exposure in Spring/Summer to maximize your body’s Vitamin D synthesis at the equivalent of 10,000 IU (depending on skin tone, health, and age).
- For maintenance, supplement with D3 at these levels: 1000 IU to 2000 IU in Spring/Summer if you don’t get out in mid-day sun; and, supplement with 2000 IU to 3000 IU in Fall/Winter if you live in a latitude north of Atlanta, Georgia (it’s not likely to produce adequate Vitamin D in the winter months at these latitudes, even on sunny days).
- If you are concerned about a deficiency, get your level checked. Ask for a for total 25(OH)D, not 1, 25(OH)D. Vitamin D deficiency is usually identified as <25 ng/dL, but anything less than 30 ng/dL is sub-optimal for an athlete (who “uses” and depends on more nutrients in the body than a sedentary person), and many experts recommend a goal of at least 50 ng/dL for athletes (optimally, 70 ng/dL). If you are deficient, you will need much higher doses until you are within a normal range…usually 1000 IU per 25 lbs. weight or so – speak to your doctor about higher doses and retesting until it’s in the normal range.
Vitamin D is crucially important to us as cyclists and humans. If you are not deficient, it’s important to continue to maintain good levels throughout the Fall and Winter. If you are deficient, it’s important to take the steps above to improve your levels in a efficient manner. You can make a huge difference in your immune function and overall health this year. We’re heading into cold-weather, inadequate UV-rays months. Take care of yourself with Vitamin D. And while you think about all this, enjoy some delicious fish I tacos.
Fuel Your Ride. Nourish Your Body.