The Best Vitamin D-Rich Foods to Include in Your Diet


A piece of salmon, a glass of milk, an egg, cheese, and a bottle of vitamin D supplements on a table next to yellow sunglasses and a picture of the sun.
Highlights
  • Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that is naturally produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. It can also be found in certain food groups.

  • It’s important to meet the daily recommended intake of vitamin D to support optimal body functioning. Your vitamin D intake varies depending on your age and where you live.

  • You can increase your vitamin D levels by incorporating foods like fatty fish, eggs, and fortified products into your diet.

Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that plays an important part in maintaining your overall health and well-being.

It’s often referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the best way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure.

However, it’s also possible to increase your vitamin D intake in other ways, like through your diet.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what exactly vitamin D is and why it’s so important for the body.

We’ve also included a list of vitamin D-rich foods that you can incorporate into your diet to support optimal body functioning.

What is Vitamin D and Why is it Important?

Vitamin D is a nutrient that is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. It is also found in some food sources.

This fat-soluble vitamin supports many essential body functions, such as retaining calcium and phosphorus to promote bone health and prevent muscle cramps.

Vitamin D also plays a crucial part in protecting the body against infection because it can help strengthen the immune system.

Nerves use vitamin D to transfer signals from the brain to other areas of the body too.

This helps the body perform important functions like regulating metabolism and reducing inflammation.

Common sources of vitamin D

Our primary source of vitamin D is sunlight exposure because the skin produces it in response to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

In some cases where sun exposure is limited or a person’s vitamin D levels are too low, supplements may be a good substitute.

Vitamin D can also be obtained from certain foods such as fatty fish, dairy products, and mushrooms.

Key Point: How Much Vitamin Do You Need per Day?

The amount of vitamin D you need will depend on various factors, such as where you live and your age.

It’s recommended that people over the age of 18 should get between 600–1,000 international units (IU) or up to 20 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D per day.

How Can You Increase Your Vitamin D Intake?

There are a number of ways you can increase your vitamin D intake to help your body function properly.

Sunlight exposure

The most natural way to boost your vitamin D levels is to spend more time in the sun. Aim for about 10–30 minutes of direct sun exposure per week on your face, arms, and legs.

Exposing your skin to sunlight — particularly during midday when the sun’s rays are the strongest — allows your body to produce vitamin D.

It’s important to keep using proper sun protection when you expose the skin to UV rays. This helps to keep you safe from skin damage and other medical conditions like cancer.

Dietary sources

Another way to increase your vitamin D intake is to introduce foods high in this micronutrient to your diet.

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are excellent sources of vitamin D. Other options include fortified dairy products, certain plant-based foods, and some vegetables.

You can check food labels to determine which products contain vitamin D if you’re unsure.

Supplements

People with limited sun exposure or access to dietary sources of vitamin D can consider taking a daily supplement.

Vitamin D supplements are available over-the-counter (OTC) in various forms, including capsules, tablets, and liquid drops.

Before taking vitamin D supplements, speak to your doctor first. They can help you determine the appropriate dosage for your specific needs.

UVB lamps

Some individuals may find it challenging to expose themselves to sunlight regularly to get enough vitamin D.

In these cases, UVB lamps or light therapy devices can be used under medical supervision to stimulate vitamin D production.

It’s important to note that this method is typically only recommended for individuals with specific medical conditions.

If you don’t have a vitamin D deficiency, research suggests that you likely won’t benefit from exposure to UVB lamps.

Key Point: What is the Difference Between Vitamin D2 and D3?

Although both types are derived from vitamin D, there are two key differences between them.

Vitamin D2 is derived from plant-based sources and is considered more effective at increasing and maintaining vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D3 is derived from animal-based sources and is also produced naturally by the skin when exposed to sunlight.

9 Nutritious Foods High in Vitamin D

There are only a few foods that contain naturally occurring vitamin D, so identifying and adding them to your diet is essential to increase your intake.

Salmon

Salmon is a highly accessible fatty fish that is a great source of vitamin D.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) determined that a 3.5-ounce serving of salmon contains up to 526 IU or over 60% of the recommended dietary allowance.

However, remember that vitamin D levels can vary, depending on whether the salmon is wild or farmed.

Wild-caught salmon typically contains more vitamin D compared to farmed fish.

Tuna

Canned tuna is another great source of vitamin D that is affordable and easy to store. It contains 269 IU of vitamin D per 100 grams, which is more than 30% of the recommended intake.

It’s important to note that some types of tuna contain high levels of mercury — a chemical that comes from coal emissions — and may be dangerous to consume in large amounts.

To avoid mercury building up in the body and becoming a serious health concern, nutritionists recommend only eating a single serving (100 grams) of tuna per week.

Fortified dairy products

Dairy products like milk and yogurt are sources of essential nutrients like calcium.

Manufacturers can also fortify their dairy products with vitamin D to make them more nutrient-rich.

Fortifying a product involves deliberately adding one or more micronutrients to food through chemical processes.

Cow’s milk that has been fortified with vitamin D can contain around 115 IU, which is 15% of the recommended daily amount.

Egg yolks

Whole eggs are an excellent source of nutrients such as protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. It also contains 37 IU of vitamin D or 5% of your daily recommended intake.

Some eggs may have higher levels of vitamin D, depending on how much the chicken was exposed to the sun.

Studies have shown that free-range or pasture-raised chickens produce eggs with vitamin D levels that are four times higher compared to others.

Fortified soy milk and tofu

Plant-based substitutes, like soy milk and tofu, are often fortified with vitamin D to make them more nutrient-rich.

The amount of vitamin D in soy milk can vary, depending on the brand. One cup can contain between 100–115 IU of vitamin D, which is 13–15% of the daily amount.

Tofu is similar and can have varying amounts of vitamin D. A half-cup serving of tofu can contain between 100–200 IU, or 13–20% of the recommended intake.

Cod liver oil

Cod liver oil is a popular supplement that can be a great alternative to fish.

It’s an excellent source of vitamin D and contains around 450 IU per teaspoon -- almost 50% of the recommended intake.

Cod liver oil is also high in other essential nutrients like vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which support important bodily functions.

Because of its nutrient profile, cod liver oil can also be used together with medical treatments to help manage conditions like:

  • Psoriasis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chronic inflammation

Cereal and oatmeal

Cereals can also be fortified with vitamin D to enhance their nutritional value.

One cup of fortified cereal can contain between 85 and 145 IU, which is 11–18% of the daily recommended vitamin D intake.

However, it’s important to remember that not all cereals have been fortified to contain vitamin D. If you’re unsure, check the nutritional label to find out how much vitamin D is in the product.

Mushrooms

Other than fortified foods, mushrooms are one of the only non animal products that contain naturally occurring vitamin D.

Much like humans, mushrooms can produce vitamin D when exposed to UV rays. They also produce vitamin D2, which is often considered more effective for the body.

One cup of mushrooms contains 136 IU — or 17% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin D — making it an excellent source of nutrients.

Fortified orange juice

Fortified orange juice is a great source of vitamin D and other nutrients like calcium — especially for people who are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk.

One cup of fortified orange juice can contain up to 12%, or 100 IU, of the daily recommended amount of vitamin D.

However, drinking orange juice isn’t always the best option for everyone. People prone to acid reflux or individuals living with diabetes may find that orange juice worsens their condition.

Benefits of vitamin D supplements

There are many benefits of taking vitamin D supplements, including:

  • Addressing deficiencies and preventing health complications
  • Promoting bone health
  • Improving muscle function
  • Supporting a strong immune system

While vitamin D supplements can be a great way to increase your daily intake, it’s important to remember that the benefits may differ from person to person.

If you’re unsure if vitamin D would improve your overall health, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss it.

When Should I Consider Taking Vitamin D Supplements?

Vitamin D supplements can be helpful for people who can’t increase their intake naturally.

Although these supplements are generally only recommended for medical conditions, certain groups of people may also benefit from them.

You should also speak to your doctor about vitamin D supplements if you:

  • Have a darker skin tone
  • Are over the age of 60
  • Experience malabsorption

Before taking a vitamin D supplement, speak to your doctor about your individual circumstances.

Where Can I Learn More About Vitamin D and Other Minerals?

If you want to learn more about how you can incorporate vitamin D into your diet, LifeMD can help.

A medical professional can assist you with information about vitamin D and nutrition — all from the comfort of your own home.

Make an appointment with a doctor or nurse practitioner today.

Shanta Williams, APRN

Shanta is a board-certified, multi-state NP that has worked in healthcare for over 14 years. She earned her M.S. in Family Nurse Practitioning. In 2020, she was one of the first Nurse Practitioners to assist with the COVID-19 outbreak in New York.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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