Did you know that vitamin D is good for your bones and can also help boost your immune system, improve your cardiovascular health, and even help prevent cancer?
Research shows that low vitamin D levels are linked to various health problems, such as depression, obesity, and type 2 diabetes (1, 2, 3 ). In contrast, high vitamin D levels can cause the body to absorb too much calcium, leading to health problems such as kidney stones (4).
The vitamin D level in your blood can drop quickly, but experts are still debating how much vitamin D you need to maintain optimal health ( 5 ). The National Institute of Health recommends that adults get 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day ( 6 ). Still, some experts say you may need up to 1,000 IU daily to maintain optimum health ( 7 ).
Foods rich in vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, eggs, and fortified milk. Additionally, sunlight is a great source of vitamin D when your skin is exposed to direct sunlight.
This is why it’s important to include foods high in vitamin D in your diet, especially if you don’t get much sun exposure ( 8 ). Here are some of the best foods to eat to ensure you get enough vitamin D.
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D(also known as calciferol) is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for good health.
There are two main categories of vitamin D:
- D2 (ergocalciferol): This form of vitamin D is found in fortified foods and supplements.
- D3 (cholecalciferol): It’s produced by your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. It’s also found in some animal-based foods, like eggs and fatty fish.
Your body requires vitamin D to take in calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that are essential for strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D is crucial in cell growth, immune function, and reduces inflammation ( 9,10 ).
Signs Of Toxicity and Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency may occur if you don’t get enough sun exposure, don’t eat enough vitamin D-rich foods, or have certain health conditions that make it difficult for your body to absorb or metabolize vitamin D (11 ).
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency may include (12 ):
- Bone pain and/or softening of the bones (osteomalacia or rickets in children)
- Muscle weakness
- Increased risk of fractures
- Dental problems like gum disease and tooth decay
Deficiency can also lead to an increased risk of heart disease, cognitive decline, cancer, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (13 ).
Other people at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency aside from vegans and lactose intolerant individuals include:
- Obese people: Fat cells store vitamin D and may not release it into the bloodstream.
- Older adults: As people age, they may not get enough sun exposure. Consequently, their skin doesn’t make as much vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Additionally, the kidney becomes less efficient at converting vitamin D to its active form.
- People with dark skin: Melanin, a pigment in the skin, reduces the skin’s ability to make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
- People with certain medical conditions: Conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and cystic fibrosis can affect the absorption of vitamin D from food.
- People who take certain medications: Medications such as anticonvulsants, glucocorticoids, and HIV medications can reduce the levels of vitamin D in the body.
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
Top foods high in vitamin D
To get the most out of vitamin D, foods high in this nutrient should be included in your diet. Here are foods to eat to ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D.
Wild-caught salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D(17 ). According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 3.5-ounce serving of cooked wild-caught salmon contains about 400-700 IU of vitamin D (18 ), almost double the recommended daily intake for adults. Additionally, salmon is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for maintaining heart health and preventing chronic diseases.
2. Canned Tuna
Canned tuna is a favorite food of many people because it’s affordable, easy to find, and versatile. Tuna is also a great source of vitamin D, with a 3-ounce serving containing about 231 IU (19 ). Mercury is a type of metal that can be found in most fish.
The mercury level in canned tuna depends on the type of tuna. White canned tuna generally has less mercury than light canned tuna.
That being said, you should limit your intake of canned tuna to 2-3 servings of light tuna per week ( 20 ).
Eggs are a nutrient-rich food, and an excellent source of vitamin D. One large egg contains about 41 IU of vitamin D, which is about 10% of the recommended daily intake for adults ( 21 ). In addition to being a good source of vitamin D, eggs are also a good source of protein, choline, and lutein.
However, one egg contains 200 milligrams of cholesterol ( 22 ), and too much dietary cholesterol was correlated with an increased risk of heart disease ( 23 ). Therefore, you should limit your intake of eggs to no more than four per week.
4. Herring and Sardines
Herring and sardines are small, oily fish that are often consumed whole smoked, or pickled. Fresh herring and sardines are also good sources of vitamin D, with a 3.5-ounce serving containing about 216 IU ( 24 ).
If you prefer pickled to fresh, pickled herring is also a great source of vitamins since one serving contains about 112 IU of vitamin D ( 25 ). Due to the high salt content, you should limit your intake of pickled herring to one ounce per day.
Canned sardines are also a good source of vitamin D, with a 3-ounce serving containing about 177 IU. They are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and calcium. Other types of fatty fish in this category include anchovies, trout, and mackerel.
5. Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil is a type of fish oil extracted from cod fish’s liver. It’s a popular supplement because it’s an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. One tablespoon (15 ml) of cod liver oil contains about 1,360 IU of vitamin D( 26 ).
Additionally, it’s a good source of vitamins A and K. However, this oil also contains high levels of mercury. It should be avoided if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Mushrooms are unique because they can produce vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet light. However, the amount of vitamin D in mushrooms depends on the type of mushroom and how it was grown. For example, white button mushrooms exposed to UV light can contain up to 400 IU of vitamin D per 100g serving( 29 ).
Most commercial mushrooms are grown in the dark and don’t contain high levels of vitamin D. However, some brands of mushrooms are now starting to grow their mushrooms under UV light to increase their vitamin D content.
7. Beef Liver
Beef liver is a type of organ meat often consumed as a food or supplement. It’s an excellent source of protein, vitamin A, and several other vitamins and minerals ( 30 ). Beef liver is also a good source of vitamin D, with a slice containing about 42 IU ( 31 ).
Organ meats are generally nutrient-dense and a good source of vitamins and minerals. However, they’re also high in cholesterol and should be consumed in moderation. To limit your cholesterol intake, consume no more than 100–250 g of beef liver per week ( 32 ).
8. Vitamin D Fortified Foods
If you’re a vegetarian or don’t eat fish, you can still get your vitamin D fix by consuming fortified foods. Many food products are fortified with vitamin D and can be a good source of the nutrient.
Most brands of cow’s milk are fortified with vitamin D and can be a good source of the nutrient. One cup of vitamin D fortified cow’s milk contains about 120 IU of vitamin D( 33 ).
If you’re lactose intolerant or don’t drink cow’s milk, you can also get your vitamin D from other types of milk that are fortified with the nutrient. This includes soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk.
If you’re lactose intolerant or don’t drink cow’s milk, orange juice is another good option for getting your daily dose of vitamin D. Many brands of orange juice are fortified with vitamin D and can be a good source of nutrients.
One cup of vitamin D fortified orange juice contains about137 IU of vitamin D ( 34 ), which is more than the recommended daily intake for adults.
For people experiencing acid reflux, orange juice may not be the best option as it can aggravate symptoms.
Cereals and Oatmeal
Many cereal brands and oatmeal are fortified with vitamin D and can be a good source of nutrients. One cup of fortified ready-to-eat cereals contains about 80 IU of vitamin D ( 35 ), which is more than the recommended daily intake for adults.
Not all cereal and oatmeal brands are fortified with vitamin D. Be sure to check the nutrition label to see if the product contains vitamin D. Despite their low vitamin D value, these foods are still a good source of other nutrients like fiber and iron.
Calcium and Vitamin D
For calcium absorption, vitamin D is essential. A lack of vitamin D and calcium can lead to rickets ( 36 ), in which the bones are soft and weak. Vitamin D and calcium also help protect against osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become thin and break easily.
The daily value (DV) for vitamin D is 800 IU, and the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) varies depending on age ( 37 ).
For children and adults aged 1-70, the RDA is 600 IU. For people over the age of 70, the RDA is 800 IU.
The RDA for calcium also varies depending on age. For children aged 4-8, the RDA is 1000 mg. For children between 9-18, the daily RDA is 1300. People between 19-50 need 1000mg daily. Over 50, the RDA is 1200 mg of calcium per day ( 38 ).
While you can get some vitamin D and calcium from fortified foods, the best way to ensure you’re getting enough of these nutrients is by consuming foods that are naturally high in vitamin D and calcium.
While you can get some vitamin D from sunlight, this doesn’t mean you should ditch your sunscreen. The CDC recommends that everyone, regardless of their vitamin D status, should use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to protect against skin cancer( 39 ).
That being said, the best way to get your daily dose of vitamin D is by consuming naturally high nutrients, eating fortified foods, or taking vitamin D supplements.
Sure, getting vitamin D from only food may not be easy, but it’s possible. Consuming the foods on this list will help you reach your daily vitamin D goals and ensure your optimum health