Dear Mark: Vitamin D for Babes, Ingredient Bait and Switch, and Kettlebellin’ for Strength or Cardio?

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, we’ve got a three-parter. First up is a controversial topic: vitamin D supplements for breastfeeding babies. Do they need it? Can they get enough through mother’s milk? Or is there another, better method for ensuring optimal vitamin D levels in breastfeeding infants? Next, what’s my take on the ol’ ingredient bait and switch employed by food manufacturers? And finally, say a person’s trying to program kettlebell training into their weekly routine. Should they consider it cardio, strength, or something else entirely?

Let’s go:


First off, a sincere thank you for being such an awesome resource!!

So I was hoping to get your opinion on Vitamin D supplementation in newborn babies.

I have a five week old son, I also have four and 10 y/o old daughters. I was surprised to find out when we were checking out of the hospital with my son that it is now recommended that infants get 1 ML or 400 IUs of Vitamin D daily. This was not the case just four years ago when my daughter was born.

I am a big believer in the benefits of getting the proper amounts of Vitamin D. However, I am not really a big fan of supplements unless medically necessary and something just doesn’t sit right with me giving it to my newborn- especially because we never did with my other children and they are healthy primal kids.

It seems like the rationale for the rec is that babies have sensitive skin so they can’t spend much time in the sun, and Vitamin D does not come through breast milk as much as some other vitamins/ minerals.

Would love to hear your thoughts.



Thanks for the kind worsd, Ryan.

Let’s be clear: vitamin D deficiency is a serious issue for anyone, especially infants. In the long term, vitamin D deficiency early in life leads to rickets, skeletal malformation (curved spines, bowed legs, thickened ankles), and poor growth. Infants who are born and stay vitamin D-deficient are also more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections. Overall, vitamin D plays important roles in endocrine, immune, and heart health, along with cancer prevention, so starting one’s life from a deficit can have major repercussions.

In the US, infant rickets appears almost exclusively in infants who are breastfed. That may come as a surprise to some of my readers, but breastfed infants with rickets were also likely to receive no vitamin D supplementation and very little sun exposure. So it’s probably a combination of poor maternal vitamin D status, inadequate maternal vitamin D intake, lack of sun exposure for both the mom and the infant, and inherently meager levels of vitamin D in breast milk.

Is there anything you can do to increase vitamin D levels in breast milk enough to give your nursing infant enough? Yes.

In one study, mothers taking 3.3 micrograms, or a mere 60-70 IUs, of vitamin D via cod liver oil were unable to impact their breastfeeding infants’ levels.

In another, a much larger maternal daily dose (6400 IUs) was able to replicate the effects of giving infants 300 IU directly.

In another, maternal supplementation with 4000 IUs was superior to supplementation with 2000 IUs for attaining optimal infant vitamin D levels.

So it can be done via supplementation, provided you take enough (~4000 IU minimum). Maternal sun exposure may also work, but I haven’t seen any corroborating evidence.

Supplemental vitamin D is probably fine. 400 IU/day is usually enough to prevent rickets and keep vitamin D levels above 50 ng/mL. Not always, though. In Izmir, Turkey, vitamin D deficiency was “worryingly high” in 4-month old infants despite 400 IU/day supplementation. This was particularly true in winter months. Getting your kid’s levels tested is a good idea if you go the supplementing route. Apply a few drops to the nipple just before feeding. That’s the mother’s nipple, by the way.

Your baby can also supplement with cod liver oil, which has vitamin D (and vitamin A, for that matter) and has been shown to reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections in children. Some tots even like the taste of fermented cod liver oil, which is just crazy if you’ve ever tasted it yourself, but who knows? Kids are weird. I know one guy who actually gives his 2 year old daughter capsules as a treat. He actually has to prevent her from eating too much.

There is another method, of course. I prefer this one to the others, and I think it confers additional beneficial effects beyond improving infant vitamin D status: light but daily sun exposure. Infants aren’t going to burn up because of a minute or two of full sun exposure. Make it a bonding experience. Strip down to your skivvies (the both of you, and bring the other parent along, too) and flop down in the sun. Expose every nook and cranny. Return inside or cover up when the little one’s skin starts to feel warm to the touch. Avoid pinkness. A study from 1985 found that just 30 minutes of full sun per week wearing a diaper was enough to keep vitamin D levels topped off in exclusively breastfed infants — it really doesn’t take much more than five or six minutes a day.

Those expert health recommendations that infants all receive vitamin D drops presuppose that they aren’t getting any sun exposure, which is probably a safe assumption for most. That’s kinda been drilled into parents’ heads for generations: avoid the sun at all costs! Your fragile baby will literally wilt in the sun. But it’s not true. It’s safe, as long as you’re smart about it. It’s most likely how most infants got adequate vitamin D for most of our history.

You’ve got some time to decide. Absent postnatal sun exposure, vitamin D levels last about 8 weeks in the exclusively breastfed baby.

I “tolerate” erithrytol and xylitol, but prefer to use things like stevia, barring that, honey or maple syrup, but categorically refuse Truvia. The reason is that while they advertise it is stevia, the ingredients and nutrition panels reveal that it is mostly erithrytol with barely a nod in the direction of a stevia bush.

Two other examples that come to mind are “honey mustard” that starts with HFCS and has “some” honey halfway down the list. Or the “olive oil mayo” that starts with soybean oil and again has “some” olive oil halfway down the list.

Apparently parity between the front and back labels is too much to ask at the grocery store.

Any thoughts on this?


It’s a huge issue, James, and you’re totally right. As you say, even if the “hidden” ingredients aren’t in and of themselves offensive or particularly undesirable, the deception rankles. Take something like Spectrum Organic Olive Oil Mayonnaise, which, going by the words printed on the label and the prominent depiction of an olive branch, should be made of olive oil. But it’s not. The first ingredient is soybean oil, followed by whole eggs and egg yolks. Only then does olive oil appear.

American ingredient labels are arranged in order of quantity. The earlier the ingredient appears in the list, the larger the proportion of the final product it comprises. Anyone who has ever made mayo knows that it’s almost all oil. Most mayo recipes do about a half cup of oil for every egg yolk. So if olive oil comes after eggs on the Spectrum mayo, you’re looking at a pittance of olive oil in the finished product. It’s soybean oil mayo.

Coincidentally, that’s one of the main reasons I started Primal Kitchen — to provide a beacon in the night for all the disaffected mayo (and other condiment) seekers sick of being ripped off with false promises of olive oil. As many of you know, I come up with most of my products to address a deficit or solve a problem in my own life. My reasoning is sound, I think: if I need something, others do, too. And I love mayo, but hated making it. Primal Kitchen™ Mayo is flying off the shelves, so I guess I was right.

Hi, Mark,

I’m working through your program and have a question regarding the strength phase. I’m assuming that keeping heart rate below 75% does not apply since this is difficult to control. I use kettlebells for this, limiting to 20 minutes. However, they are demanding on the heart rate as are lifting heavy things.

Would a 20 minute kettlebell session with limited rest constitute a sprint session and hence substitute. Greatly appreciate your thoughts.

Best regards,


A 20-minute kettlebell workout is probably veering toward the cardio side of things. Even still, it’ll make you stronger, too. That’s what’s so cool about kettlebell training: it’s both. Using kettlebells can make you stronger and improve your conditioning.

Kettlebell training with light weights and high volume (12-16 kg bells, 12 30-second rounds of swings with 30 seconds of rest) increase maximal and explosive strength.

The hormonal response to kettlebell training is consistent with muscle adaptations to strength training.

Furthermore, weightlifters who incorporate kettlebells into their training enjoy additional strength and strength-endurance gains. It really can’t hurt (and may help) to add a KB workout once in awhile.

Many people find that regular KB swings improve and even eliminate back pain, and research into muscle loading and activation during the swing supports these anecdotes.

As for aerobic adaptations, KB training’s good for that, too. One study had female college soccer players do 20 minutes of KB snatches using 15 second work/rest intervals. Compared to a control group who performed only circuit weight training, the KB snatch group experienced gains in aerobic capacity over four weeks. Another study found KB training about as good for aerobic fitness as moderate-intensity uphill treadmill walking.

However, there are compromises. When you directly compare it to traditional strength training, kettlebell training doesn’t increase strength to the same extent. And compared to treadmill running, KB training doesn’t elicit as strong an aerobic adaptation. But it does produce gains in both areas.

It’s worth noting that most KB training studies use relatively low weights and still get good results for both strength and aerobic training. If you were to pick up a heavier bell — upwards of, say, 24 kg for women, 40 kg for men — you’d get even greater strength adaptations.

That’s it for this week, folks. Thanks for reading, and be sure to leave a comment down below. I’d love to hear your input on today’s questions.

TAGS:  marketing

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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26 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Vitamin D for Babes, Ingredient Bait and Switch, and Kettlebellin’ for Strength or Cardio?”

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  1. I’m due in 10 weeks and plan on taking baby outside to play as much as possible from week 1. I LOVE being outside, and I hope to instill that in my child as well.

  2. When my little girl was a baby, I had an older woman at church encourage me to allow her to “air out” every now & then. Pull out a blanket and go out for some sunshine. She told me to strip her down completely! “Don’t worry about the diaper. It’s just a blanket, and you can wash it.”
    I guess some of that older wisdom serves a good purpose. At the time I didn’t think about all the vitamin D. I just thought babies like to be naked!
    (Mine sure did. ????)

  3. Yep, my kid chews cod liver oil capsules like candy. I wonder how long that will go on.

    1. Depends on what you’re after. Heavy traditional lifts that activate multiple muscle systems will probably produce greater strength gains than a kettlebell.

      What I’ve found personally is that my 70lb kettlebell will give me a great workout in 20 minutes, and the equipment and training space take up about two square meters in my basement. I’m stronger in every area just doing the simple/sinister program of hard-style swings and get-ups. It’s also a lot easier to fit into my lifestyle than going to a gym to lift heavy things. The program that works best is the one you can keep doing.

      1. Agreed. The one problem I’ve found with pure strength work is that your conditioning goes right out the window. The kettlebell can provide both. Double cleans and presses and squats for strength days, Viking Warrior conditioning for VO2 Max days. If you are a runner looking to follow a FIRST program or utilize principles behind CrossFit Endurance, it is the ideal tool. Add Simple/Sinister for breakfast and you are getting total body fitness, and not the horrific twiggy upper body so common with runners and cyclists who log countless miles. And you will stave off injury because of it. Because the ultimate goal is health and fitness, which equals quality of life, right?

  4. They gave us Vit D drops when my little one was born, and I used them. I also wasn’t shy about letting her get sun either. Now she is a walking, 12 month old path of destruction. I did the research, and figured it wasn’t going to hurt anything. Now she is pretty primal, she devoured about 1/4 of a sausage fritatta I made. Actually, she probably eats as many eggs as I do in a week (about a dozen for her and myself, they are her favorite mixed with spinach).

    1. Oh, and she H-A-T-E-S cereal. The doctors are all worried she won’t have enough iron (since cereal is the only place you can get it, after all) but wonder how she passes her blood work with flying colors.

      1. No iron in spinach of course 😉 … I do wonder about the medical profession! And bloods for babies … crikey, but then I live in UK where trying to get any blood tests out of the NHS is nigh on in possible it seems.

  5. Yep, and a 3-pack of the primal mayo flew into my household. Always loved mayo, until I got older and wiser and found out what a crock of crap it was (literally ;-). Well, now I can be a mayo lover and be healthy. Great stuff Mark, loving it on many things…

    1. Almost all commercial mayo is made with soybean oil these days. It’s probably a lot cheaper than using olive oil but it makes the mayo taste rancid. I bought a jar soon after Hellman’s made the switch and ended up throwing it out. I thought it was spoiled until I checked the list of ingredients and noticed the changes they had made. If you want the real thing, either buy Primal Kitchen or make it yourself. Homemade mayo will keep in the fridge for several weeks.

  6. Both of my kids were strictly breastfed. My oldest son had seizures due to hypocalcemia and low vitamin D when he was 8 months old.

    We live in Chicago so we didn’t get enough sun. Apparently it’s becoming an epidemic.

    As for kettlebells, I read an article on T-Nation saying you should add a 4-minute Tabata session at the end of your strength training days to help with conditioning.

    It’s a great idea.

  7. I use Truvia because it is almost nothing but erythritol. It is a sugar alcohol and has been used safely for a long time. “Humans don’t have the enzymes to break down erythritol. It gets absorbed into the bloodstream and is then excreted unchanged in the urine. When healthy people are given erythritol, there is no change in blood sugar or insulin levels. There is also no effect on cholesterol, triglycerides or other biomarkers.” ( It’s about 70% as sweet as sucrose.

    1. The biggest problem I have with Truvia is that the front label CLAIMS stevia, but it is nearly all erythritol, but you ONLY find that out if you read the back label. That is FALSE ADVERSTISING and falls under BAIT AND SWITCH.

      I have no difficulty with erythritol, but if I want it I am perfectly capable of finding my own. Want both? I can mix at MY desired proportion. In my response below I pointed out the potential danger if someone had a sensitivity to erythritol and only looked at the front label. What if it were 99% maltitol with less than 1% stevia? A good number of people have rather “messy” problems with maltitol.

      1. You have to realize that stevia is so sweet that a miniscule portion is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar sweetness corresponding to a single sweetener packet. (For example, I use 3/4 teaspoon of stevia to sweeten an entire gallon of tea.) The amount is so small it can’t be packaged by itself, although you can get some stevia in tablet form. The tablets are tiny, as in much smaller than a Tictac. Manufacturers always package stevia powder with some other bulking agent. Although in Truvia you are gettting erythritol at a much higher volume than the stevia, the stevia is probably providing most of the sweetness. There is another brand that uses dextrose as a bulking agent, so you might try that instead, but I forget the name. Another option is to make some honmemade stevia “syrup” and just add it to your drinks.

        1. This thread was not intended to extol the virtues of erythritol, but about the “bait and switch” tactics, prevalent in a lot of things nowadays. Mainly about the disparity between advertising and the front label vs the back label. Truvia was one example out of three, but those are by no means the only such products out there.

          The majority of people are not going to look at the back label these days. How many of them will see the front label, not look at the back, and decide the “olive oil mayo” is “healthy”, when in fact there is less olive oil than the egg ingredients?

  8. I was born at altitude and mom used a lot of aspirin while carrying me, I was born a blue baby as it was called then. The recommendation then was to place baby in the sun with out cloths for 20 min. a day, at noon. Sounds like sound advice to me. I still love the sun today, I’m 58.
    As for the bate and switch issue, I love good food. always read the ingredients and soluble carb grams. Mark, I love your mayo, but, my wife makes some really good mayo at home, sorry.

    1. I’m with Mark. Love the mayo, hate the making of it.

      Bacon grease for mayo? Great stuff. Coconut oil for mayo, also tasty but turns to a rather “durable” solid in the fridge.

      1. Bacon grease goes in all of my mayo and salad dressing. It is excellent.

  9. Thanks Mark!

    Something I posted to another site but hadn’t thought of here:

    Imagine you have a severe sensitivity to erythritol. A well-meaning friend wants to make something for you. They look at Truvia’s front label. “It’s made with stevia, I can use this for him.” Disaster ensues.

    1. Yeah, I agree- my body does not take kindly to any sugar alcohol. Oh, the pain… ????

  10. I was found to be vitamin D deficient shortly after my son’s birth and couldn’t take the mega doses (50,000 units) because I was breastfeeding. I told my son’s doc and he put my son on vitamin D and he is eight now and still is. My son is strawberry red(gold red hair) and paper pale. He isn’t able to handle more than about five minutes of Western Washington state sun without becoming crispy. I burn in about 10 minutes. We both live in hats and sunscreen outdoors. He does get to go outside without protection in the early morning and after 4pm.

    1. Supplementing with l-tyrosine might hep with the sun sensitivity. Although not red haired, I was always pale and sun sensitive until I learned that trick.

  11. Vitamin D supplements may be more important for babies with dark skin, as darker races are adapted to resist strong sunshine. In the UK they prescribe it for the children of families of South Asian and African origin, as the sun isn’t strong enough to avoid rickets (at least this was the case in the 70s and 80s). Us pasty white types could usually get along without it.

  12. By using a SunFriend, you can more safely optimize your sun exposure – and summer is the best time of the year to be optimizing your exposure for increasing vitamin D!