Vitamin D is important for bone health, immune and neuromuscular function, and cell growth.1 It may even have a role to play in modulating genes linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders, so it is important to get enough.2
Vitamin D is produced by your body when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. But with lives led increasingly indoors along with fears around radiation from the sun and the risk of cancer, vitamin D deficiency is becoming more common. Eating the right foods can help you make up for that shortfall to some extent, so stock up on vitamin D rich foods and you’ll be back on track.
Limited Sun Exposure Could Put You More At Risk Of Vitamin D Deficiency
Some people are more at risk of such a deficiency than others, and that’s usually linked to the limited sun exposure they get – for instance, anyone who is largely house-bound and doesn’t get to go outdoors. The elderly or those in care homes are also vulnerable.3 4 5:
But even if you spend time outdoors quite often, you may also be at risk of a vitamin D deficiency if you wear clothes that cover up the bulk of your skin when you are outdoors.6 In addition to this, those with dark skin may also have such a deficiency because the high levels of melanin in their bodies hamper the absorption of vitamin D created after the skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.7 This may lead to
- Increased fracture risk
- Low mood and depression
- Impaired cognitive performance in the elderly
- Rickets in children
- Secondary hyperparathyroidism
- Bone loss
Aim For A Dietary Intake Of 15 mcg Of Vitamin D Daily If Sun Exposure Is Minimal
The health authorities in the United States suggest an intake of 15 mcg of vitamin D for adults under 70 years and 20 mcg for adults who are 70 years and over, regardless of whether they are male or female.8 In fact, the United States Food and Drug Administration has updated the daily values (DVs) for food labeling for vitamin D to 20 mcg, higher than previous levels.9 Here are the top food sources of vitamin D you can use to boost your numbers.
1. Oily Fish Like Salmon, Sardines, And Tuna
- 3 oz serving of salmon: 11.1 mcg (55.5% DV)
- 3 oz of Atlantic herring: 4.6 mcg (23% DV)
Oily fish are a great source of vitamin D. So stock up on salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and sardines.10 To give you a sense of just how much vitamin D they contain, here’s a look at some popular options:
- Sardines: A can of sardines in tomato sauce eaten with the bones contains 17.8 mcg of vitamin D or 89% DV. A can of sardines in oil (drained) with the bone gives you 4.4 mcg of the vitamin or 22% DV.1112
- Salmon: This fish contains 11.1 mcg per 3 oz serving of cooked salmon. That’s 55.5% DV.13
- Mackerel: This fish has about 9.7 mcg of vitamin D to the 3 oz serving of cooked fish which meets almost half (48.5% DV) your daily value of the vitamin.14
- Atlantic herring: There is 4.6 mcg (23% DV) of the vitamin in a 3 oz serving of cooked Atlantic herring and 3.9 mcg (19.5% DV) in a cup of pickled herring.1516
- Cooked yellowfin tuna: Per 3 oz serving of this fish gives you 1.7 mcg of vitamin D, which is 8.5% DV.17
Most fish is quick cooking so it is the ideal meal for someone on the go. Some kinds of tuna take just a few minutes to sear off if you buy pre-prepared fish. Canned tuna or pickled herring are easily incorporated into salads or pasta for a delicious meal. Salmon is a popular and delicious fish as is mackerel and you can use them in a variety of ways depending on whether you are in the mood for grilled fish, smoked fish with cream cheese in a bagel, or even a light salad.
3 oz serving of liver: 1 mcg (5% DV)
While not as rich as seafood, braised liver does have 1 mcg to 3 oz of vitamin D. That’s 5% DV.18 The downside is that having liver on a regular basis isn’t a good idea because of the very high levels of preformed vitamin A in it which can build up in the body and be toxic. You can indulge in it occasionally. And when you do, try some in a very more-ish liver and onion gravy or have it with herb sauce served with creamy mashed potatoes. For a filling snack or fun lunch, make yourself an open sandwich with livers on toast, perhaps with some chorizo added in for an interesting twist!
3 oz serving of kidneys: 0.9 mcg (4.5% DV)
Kidney is another organ meat that has some vitamin D. Each 3 oz serving of cooked kidneys has 0.9 mcg of vitamin D, which is 4.5% DV.19 Braise kidneys in red wine sauce to make them succulent in an Italian style kidney, mushrooms, and potato recipe, or try rustling up a very British steak and kidney pie. Or go simple but oh-so-delicious with devilled kidneys on toast!
4. Egg Yolks
1 large egg yolk: 0.9 mcg (4.5% DV)
A large egg yolk has 0.9 mcg (4.5% DV) of vitamin D.20 Eat the whole egg and you stand to get 1 mcg of the vitamin, which is just marginally more since much of the vitamin D is contained in the yolk and not the white of the egg.21 You could use your eggs in breakfast foods like omelets or have simple fried or boiled eggs. You could even make an exotic egg curry or have them runny in a French-style oeufs en cocotte or baked eggs paired with a salty olive tapenade or creamed spinach.
Some varieties of mushrooms are naturally rich in vitamin D. Chanterelle mushrooms have 2.9 mcg of vitamin D2, which is about 14.5% DV.22 Morel mushrooms have 3.4 mcg to a cup of raw mushrooms which is 17% DV.23
- 1 cup of chanterelle mushrooms: 2.9 mcg (14.5% DV)
- 1 cup of morel mushrooms: 3.4 mcg (17% DV)
Mushroom producers have also discovered that exposing the fungi to ultraviolet radiation during their cultivation helps raise levels of vitamin D further. Which is why a cup of whole crimini or brown mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light gives you an impressive 27.8 mcg of vitamin D (139% DV). But without light exposure, it would give you just 0.1 mcg of vitamin D, which is less than 1% DV.2425
Whatever kind of mushroom you choose, you’ll be spoilt for choice on how to cook them! Larger varieties can work as burger substitutes and can be as meaty and filling. Some lend themselves to filling with cheese or vegetables. Others work well in stir-fries. Or soups. Or salads. The options are endless!
One thing to remember with mushrooms is that they give you only vitamin D2. This is is the less effective form of vitamin D than vitamin D3 found in animal sources like seafood, organ meat, and eggs, in terms of raising, maintaining, and storing vitamin D in the body.26 So while a good source, if you aren’t vegetarian, you may be better off sticking to seafood or other non-vegetarian sources of vitamin D for a more effective intake.
1 oz serving of caviar: 0.8 mcg (4% DV)
If you are feeling indulgent, caviar has 0.8 mcg per ounce, which is 4% DV.27 Fancy up your deviled or scrambled eggs with a sprinkling of caviar. Or go the whole hog and have your caviar as it is meant to be eaten, with some creme fraiche, chives, white bread and lemon wedges on the side. Either way, you are sure to feel like a million bucks with this delicious treat!
7. Vitamin D Enriched Foods
- 1 cup of reduced-fat milk: 2.9 mcg (14.5% DV)
- 1 cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt: 2.9 mcg (14.5% DV)
In addition to foods that contain vitamin D in high amounts naturally, some foods are fortified or enriched with vitamin D to improve their nutrient content. Typically, juices, milk, margarine, or cereals lend themselves to such fortification.
- Milk: A cup of reduced fat milk with added vitamin A and D has 2.9 mcg of vitamin D or 14.5% DV.28
- Yogurt: A cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt fortified with Vitamin D has 2.9 mcg of the nutrient, which is 14.5% DV.29
- Juice: A cup of enriched orange juice has 2.5 mcg of vitamin D or 12.5% DV of the vitamin.30
- Margarine: A tablespoon of margarine with added vitamin D contains 1.5 mcg of the nutrient, which is 7.5% DV.31
- Cereal: Fortified cereals contain varying amounts of vitamin D depending on how much the manufacturer adds to them. On average, a cup of ready-to-eat fortified cereal has around 10% of the DV for vitamin D in it.32
While these foods are all good sources of vitamin D, even if you do consume them, it is a good idea to try and get some sunlight exposure when you can to allow your body to produce the vitamin naturally from within. But if that is tough, you know what you should be eating to give your body that vitamin D boost!
|↑1, ↑8, ↑32||Vitamin D. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑2||Hossein-Nezhad, Arash, Avrum Spira, and Michael F. Holick. “Influence of vitamin D status and vitamin D3 supplementation on the genome-wide expression of white blood cells: a randomized double-blind clinical trial.” PloS one 8, no. 3 (2013): e58725.|
|↑3||Fairfield, Kathleen M., and Robert H. Fletcher. “Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: scientific review.” Jama 287, no. 23 (2002): 3116-3126.|
|↑4||Anglin, Rebecca ES, Zainab Samaan, Stephen D. Walter, and Sarah D. McDonald. “Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis.” The British journal of psychiatry 202, no. 2 (2013): 100-107.|
|↑5||Wilkins, Consuelo H., Yvette I. Sheline, Catherine M. Roe, Stanley J. Birge, and John C. Morris. “Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults.” The American journal of geriatric psychiatry 14, no. 12 (2006): 1032-1040.|
|↑6||Vitamin D. National Health Service.|
|↑7||Harris, Susan S. “Vitamin D and african americans.” The Journal of nutrition 136, no. 4 (2006): 1126-1129.|
|↑9||Labeling Daily Values. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑10||Vitamin D. National Health Service.|
|↑11||Fish, sardine, Pacific, canned in tomato sauce, drained solids with bone. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑12||Fish, sardine, Atlantic, canned in oil, drained solids with bone. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑13||Fish, salmon, pink, cooked, dry heat. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑14||Fish, mackerel, Pacific and jack, mixed species, cooked, dry heat. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑15||Fish, herring, Atlantic, cooked, dry heat. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑16||Fish, herring, Atlantic, pickled. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑17||Fish, tuna, yellowfin, fresh, cooked, dry heat. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑18||Beef, variety meats and by-products, liver, cooked, braised. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑19||Beef, variety meats and by-products, kidneys, cooked, simmered. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑20||Egg, yolk, raw, fresh. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑21||Egg, whole, raw, fresh. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑22||Mushrooms, Chanterelle, raw. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑23||Mushrooms, morel, raw. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑24||Mushrooms, brown, italian, or crimini, exposed to ultraviolet light, raw. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑25||Mushrooms, brown, italian, or crimini, raw. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑26||Heaney, Robert P., Robert R. Recker, James Grote, Ronald L. Horst, and Laura AG Armas. “Vitamin D3 is more potent than vitamin D2 in humans.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 96, no. 3 (2011): E447-E452.|
|↑27||Fish, caviar, black and red, granular. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑28||Milk, reduced fat, fluid, 2% milkfat, with added vitamin A and vitamin D. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑29||Yogurt, vanilla, low fat, fortified with vitamin D. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑30||Orange juice, chilled, includes from concentrate, with added calcium and vitamin D. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑31||Margarine, regular, 80% fat, composite, stick, with salt, with added vitamin D. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|