You probably knew that vitamin D is an absolute essential when it comes to our bone health, but did you know that its benefits don’t stop there? Vitamin D helps regulate calcium in the body, for healthy teeth, muscles, and bones, along with helping reduce inflammation and supporting our body’s immune system – we couldn’t be without it!
However, vitamin D deficiency is much more common than you might think. A recent study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that almost 40% of the participants were vitamin D deficient. What’s more, in winter it can be difficult for our bodies to synthesize vitamin D, as most vitamin D in the body is produced as a response to sunlight – it’s not called the sunshine vitamin for nothing!
It’s important to include foods rich in vitamin D in your diet, so you need to know what the best sources are and how much you need to be eating to meet your recommended daily amount (RDA). Let’s take a look at some great sources of vitamin D.
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How much vitamin D do I need?
Before you know how much you need, you’d better understand how vitamin D is measured. The easiest way is through something called ‘international units’, or IUs, which are used to measure the activity of various vitamins and minerals.
The FDA recommends that adults and children over the age of four consume 20mcg (800 IUs) of vitamin D a day. Here are some of the top foods that contain vitamin D to look for:
1. Fatty or oily fish
One of the best sources of vitamin D is fatty or oily fish, and with many different types to choose from, you’ll easily find a way to get them into your diet! Salmon – whether it’s canned, smoked, or cooked – is a great way to get your vitamin D, but don’t stop there. From trout to swordfish, mackerel to sardines, and halibut to herring, count on these fish as a great source of vitamin D.
If you don’t like fish, then cod liver oil is an option. This supplement is nutrient-rich, as it’s also high in vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids. It turns out grandma might have been right about a spoonful a day.
How much vitamin D? It varies. Per serving, sockeye salmon (wild, not farmed) contains about 447 IUs of vitamin D. Fatty fish like herring, sardines, halibut, and mackerel, will also have high levels.
2. Fortified foods
Fortified foods vary in their vitamin D concentration, but they’re a good way of getting it into your system. In some countries, cow’s milk and other dairy products like yogurt are fortified with vitamin D. Orange juice and certain cereals may also be fortified, along with oatmeal – so check the label to see if your regular grocery shop can help you up your vitamin D intake.
How much vitamin D? It depends on how much is added, so check the label. Fortified orange juice can contain around 137 IUs of vitamin D. If in doubt, check the label, and you’ll see if your food has been fortified or not.
Liver might not be such a popular menu choice these days, but it’s a good source of vitamin D, as long as you stick with beef liver. Beef liver is a high quality animal protein, rich in vitamins and minerals – so while it’s fallen out of favor, it might be time to bring it back into the spotlight! If you’re not a liver fan, try pâté as a quick fix, but in moderation. Both liver and pâté should be more of a weekly treat than a regular in your day-to-day diet.
How much vitamin D? 3oz of cooked beef liver contains around 42 IUs of vitamin D.
4. Egg yolks
Eggs contain more than just vitamin D – you’ll find protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin A, making them a fantastic source of nutrition. While some prefer to discard the yolk, and eat just the whites, your main source of vitamin D in an egg comes from the beautiful orange center! No matter whether you like your eggs fried, scrambled, poached, or boiled, make sure you don’t separate the yolk if it’s vitamin D you’re after.
How much vitamin D? One large egg contains around 41 IUs of vitamin D. Eat two for breakfast and double it!
Mushrooms are able to synthesize vitamin D when exposed to UV light, making them the only naturally occurring plant-based source of the sunshine vitamin. However, not all mushrooms are created equal.
To be a really good source of vitamin D, mushrooms have to be exposed to UV light, and this isn’t always possible, as some mushrooms are commercially grown in the dark. It’s a good idea to check the label when grocery shopping, as some producers indicate how their mushrooms were grown. If in doubt, some varieties with higher vitamin D levels are chanterelle, oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Team them with some eggs for a nutritious vitamin D-filled meal!
How much vitamin D? A ½ cup serving of chanterelle mushrooms not exposed to UV light contains roughly 56 IUs of vitamin D. Check the label on your mushrooms to see how many IUs there are!
But what if I’m vegan or vegetarian?
Not all of the top five foods that contain vitamin D are suitable for every diet – vegetarians can get some of their vitamin D from egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified foods, but vegans are limited to just two of those options. However, this list certainly isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to dietary sources of vitamin D.
Vitamin D foods for vegans to look out for include soy or almond milk, soy yogurt, orange juice, and cereal (always look out for the fortified kinds). Vegetarians can add on fortified dairy products like milk or yogurt to this list. Even bread and tofu occasionally have vitamin D added to them. It might seem like we’re repeating ourselves, but check the label! This way you can be sure that what you’re buying is a reliable source of vitamin D.
If you feel that you’re not able to get enough vitamin D, or want further advice on how to include it in your diet, speak to your healthcare provider.
Read more: the most nutrient dense foods in the world
Sources and references:
Parva et al. Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency and Associated Risk Factors in the US Population (2011-2012). In Cureus (2018); 10(6): e2741.
Lentjes et al. Cod Liver Oil Supplement Consumption and Health: Cross-selectional Results from the EPIC-Norfolk Cohort Study. In Nutrients (2014); 6(19): 4320-4337.