Why our food needs to sunbathe

Happy Pigs, raised outdoors at Primrose Farm Cornwall

There is a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency worldwide due to both limited sun exposure and inadequate dietary intake. Meat, including pork, is not typically considered a dietary source of vitamin D because modern management practices mean pigs are mostly raised in confinement. 

Mushrooms are a well known source of vitamin D but only if they are grown in daylight. Most supermarket mushrooms are grown in darkness to save product costs, increase profit and compete on price.

Our skin produces vitamin D in small amounts when exposed to sunlight but we spend a large percentage of our lives indoors and even when we do venture out we liberally cover our skin with copious amounts of high factor sunscreen. 

This is a recipe for ill-health and most likely the reason why osteoporosis has risen from a largely unknown condition to a prevalent one and why 'fragility fractures' are increasingly affecting our aging population. There are more than 300,000 fragility fractures every year in the UK, including approximately 70,000 hip fractures. UK hip fracture rates are currently among the highest in the EU. 

Women aged over 45 spend more days in hospital due to osteoporosis than diabetes, heart attack or breast cancer:  the annual cost of hip fractures alone is £2 billion per year in the UK.

Hip fractures are the most common cause of accident-related deaths in older people – 18% die within four months of a hip fracture; 30% within a year. A postmenopausal woman has a 50% chance of sustaining an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime. Once a fragility fracture has occurred, the risk of future fractures at least doubles.

Osteoporosis occurs due to insufficient levels of calcium in the bones; bones shrink and become more brittle. But a lack of calcium is generally not the reason for this, it's down to a lack of vitamin D that your body requires to take up and absorb that calcium. 

In a more natural lifestyle, when people worked the land more and grew more of their own food, not only were they exposed to higher levels of sunlight, the food they ate also did.

Pigs were traditionally kept outdoors and the long days they spent in the sun meant that by the time a pig was slaughtered, usually towards the end of the year, it had built up a large reserve of vitamin D in both it's meat and especially in its fat. Lard was the staple cooking fat in days gone by and recent studies have blown away many of the myths that lard is bad for you. The problem is that there are two types of lard (and pork products in general); the product that comes from outdoor reared pigs and the commercial stuff that passes as lard, sourced from factory raised pigs. 

Naturally harvested mushrooms, i.e. those grown outdoors in the sun also produce decent amounts of vitamin D during the weeks they take to grow. 

Mushrooms

So in traditional times, before the industrial farming practices used today, we would boost our bodies with vitamin D at the end of the growing season and maintain those levels with the pork and lard we stored over the winter. Is it any wonder that 'back in the day' osteoporosis was pretty much unheard of?

In Cornwall, we are lucky in that there is a good supply of outdoor raised pork and lard but many would argue that it is too expensive. It is if you are comparing it to factory produced pork products, but at what cost? Surely it is far wiser to eat a little less and live a healthier life, than to consume more of the vitimin deficient cheap source and risk the pain and suffering of osteoporosis in your later years. 

With mushrooms, the solution is a lot easier, leave your pack of mushrooms on a sunny window ledge for a day before eating them. Even though they are harvested they will still produce vitamin D. If you cook them in outdoor reared lard, even better.

Primrose Herd premium Cornish Pork

One of the best suppliers of outdoor reared pork in Cornwall is Primrose Farm and you can order their products online here.