Vitamin D, or calciferol, plays a critical role in how we metabolize calcium and phosphorus. As such, it is a key nutrient for the development of our bones and teeth. What are the best foods containing vitamin D? Does exposure to sunlight produce more vitamin D than we can obtain through our diets?
Most foods with vitamin D are animal products; fish and cod liver have some of the highest concentrations. You can also find milk or vegetable-based beverages fortified with vitamins, as well as vitamin D supplements. Keep reading this article to discover how you can get enough vitamin D.
- Vitamin D is found primarily in animal products such as fish (whitefish and bluefish), liver, and cod liver oil. Cow’s milk, margarine, and vegetable-based milk alternatives are often fortified with vitamin D.
- Vitamin D forms in the skin as a product of sun exposure, which is why it’s popularly known as the “sunshine vitamin”.
- Many groups are prone to vitamin D deficiencies: senior citizens, people who avoid sunlight, and people who live in places with less sunny months. People in these situations can prevent or treat their deficiency with liposomal vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin D: Which Foods Contain the Highest Amounts?
Vitamin D is not naturally very abundant in food. Though it can be found in bluefish, cod liver, or shellfish, sunlight is still fundamental to meet our bodies’ nutrient needs. Below, you’ll see which foods are the best vitamin D sources (1, 2).
|Foods Containing Vitamin D||Micrograms (mcg) of Vitamin D per 100 Grams of Food|
100 mcg (cod liver)
90 to 200 mcg (cod liver oil)
|Herring||6.5 to 15 mcg|
13 to 24 mcg (wild Pacific salmon)
6 to 9 mcg (farmed salmon)
|Canned sardines||4.6 to 7 mcg|
|Egg yolks||1 to 1.4 mcg|
1.3 mcg (chicken liver)
1.4 to 14 mcg (beef liver)
|Milk (Fortified with Vitamin D)||1.1 to 2 mcg|
|Vegetable Beverages (Fortified with Vitamin D)||0.5 to 0.75 mcg|
|Nutritional Yeast (Fortified with Vitamin D)||Up to 100 mcg|
|Tofu (Fortified with Vitamin D)||2.4 mcg|
Cod liver provides an excellent way to increase your vitamin D intake, since it can contain up to 100 mcg of the nutrient in every 100 grams. Smoked cod liver, which is sold canned and ready to eat, is both delicious and packed in its own oil. Try adding it to your salads and sandwiches (3).
Canned cod liver can also be ground up with cod liver oil until it reaches a pâté-like consistency, ideal for spreading on bread or savoury biscuits. Because cod liver oil has a very high concentration of vitamin D, we suggest you save any oil left over in the can and mix it with garlic, lemon juice, or spices for a healthy dressing! (1, 2).
Herring, whether fresh or smoked, stands out among the vitamin-D-containing foods. A 100-gram serving of herring offers 6.5 to 15 mcg of vitamin D. This tiny fish is also rich in omega 3 and fits well in countless recipes, from marinades to soups to batters. (1, 2).
Salmon is another source of vitamin D whether eaten raw, smoked, or baked. Wild Pacific salmon provides 13 to 24 mcg of vitamin D in every 100 grams. However, an Atlantic salmon or farm-bred salmon of the same size offers 6 to 9 mcg of cholecalciferol, also known as vitamin D3 (2, 4).
Canned sardines may contain anywhere from 4.6 to 7 mcg of vitamin D per 100 grams. Whether packed in oil, brine, or tomato sauce, they constitute a simple, cheap, and delicious way to increase the vitamin D, omega 3, and calcium you get in your diet (1, 2).
Egg yolks contain small amounts of vitamin D, offering 1 to 1.4 mcg in every 100 grams. A single yolk weighs about 25 grams and provides 0.25 mcg of cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Cooking egg yolks, however, reduces their vitamin D content by 1 to 6% (1, 2, 3).
Chicken and Beef Liver
On average, 100 grams of chicken liver contains 1.3 mcg of vitamin D, while beef liver provides about 1.4 mcg. However, some authors have claimed that beef liver may offer up to 14 mcg of the nutrient, depending on how well the animal was fed and exposed to sunshine during its life (1, 3).
Milk Enriched with Vitamin D
Cow’s milk is naturally lacking in vitamin D. However, because it’s so affordable and commonly drunk by people of all ages, cow’s milk is almost always fortified with vitamin D. A 200-ml glass of this drink offers 2.2 to 4 mcg of the vitamin (1, 2, 5).
Vegetable Drinks Enriched with Vitamin D
Vegetarian drinks like soy milk, almond milk, or rice milk often contain added vitamin D, since most people who drink them use them as a cow’s milk alternative. Soy milk offers 1 mcg of vitamin D per 200-ml glass, while almond milk provides about 1.5 mcg in the same serving (1).
Nutritional Yeast Enriched with Vitamin D
In addition to fortifying nutritional yeast with vitamin B12 and folate, some manufacturers also add vitamin D. A 10-gram serving of nutritional yeast can provide up to 10 mcg of vitamin D. We recommend that those of you who follow a vegan diet don’t overlook this superfood.
Tofu Enriched with Vitamin D
Tofu, a soy-based food, may also be fortified with vitamin D. A 100-gram serving provides approximately 2.4 mcg of vitamin D. Because adding vitamin D to tofu is not a mandatory practice, remember to read the nutritional facts to determine whether it contains the nutrient – and if so, how much (1).
What You Need to Know About Food with Vitamin D
The vitamin D we produce in our skin as a product of sunlight is not always enough. That’s why it’s important to include sources of vitamin D in your diet. Vegetable-based foods which have been fortified with vitamin D are an excellent option for our vegan readers. In situations that put you at risk for vitamin D deficiency, we also recommend you rely on supplements.
Why Do I Need to Eat Food High in Vitamin D?
Eating vitamin D-containing foods helps you meet your daily nutrient requirements, since vitamin D plays multiple important roles in the body. On top of increasing calcium assimilation and aiding bone and teeth development, vitamin D is also involved in our immune response, muscular health, and in inflammation. (1, 6).
Children, teenagers, and adults under 50 years old need 5 mcg of vitamin D per day. Adults 51 to 70 years old require 10 mcg per day, and those over 70 should be getting 15 mcg of the vitamin. Calciferol deficiency, whether due to a diet lacking in the micronutrient or to lack of sunlight, can cause (1, 2):
- Bone Health Problems: Vitamin D deficiency predisposes you to osteoporosis. This is especially true if you’re a post-menopausal woman, meaning your oestrogen production has decreased. Severe calciferol deficiency in children is associated with rickets, a disease characterized by inadequate mineralization of bones – meaning bones cannot support normal burdens (1, 2).
- Increased Risk of Autoimmune Disease: Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases, especially multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and type 1 diabetes (2, 7).
- Increased Risk of High Blood Pressure: Though the relationship between vitamin D levels and high blood pressure remains unclear, lacking this vitamin could predispose your blood pressure values to rise (2).
Are There Vegan Foods with Vitamin D?
Even though vitamin D is naturally found in animal products, there are vegan foods on the market which have been fortified with the nutrient, such as orange juice, vegetable-based drinks, and margarine. Vitamin D may also be added to tofu or nutritional yeast (2, 8).
While animal products contain calciferol in the form of vitamin D3, most fortified foods contain vitamin D2, which is also biologically active and is found in some mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms, chanterelle mushrooms, and common button mushrooms are all natural sources of vitamin D2 (2, 8).
How Much Vitamin D Does Our Skin Produce from Sunlight?
Vitamin D synthesis in the skin exists thanks to sun exposure. Estimates say that exposing your face, hands and arms to sunshine for 10 minutes between the hours of 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. produces at least 5 mcg of vitamin D. Keep in mind, however, that sunscreen with an SPF higher than 8 significantly reduces the skin’s production of vitamin D (1, 9).
Though older adults have a reduced ability to synthesize vitamin D in their skin, the time spent exposed to sunshine can simply be increased to 20 minutes per day. Spending a great deal of time in the sun is neither necessary nor recommended, especially at dangerous times – above all, during the summer. Doing so will increase your risk of skin cancer (9).
When Are Vitamin D Supplements Recommended?
Vitamin D supplements are sold in various forms: capsules, chewable tablets, or drops. In general, they provide vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) in a concentration of 25 to 50 mcg per daily dose. The amount of vitamin D may also be expressed in International Units (IU), where 1 mcg equals 40 IU. Vitamin D supplements are recommended for (10, 11):
- Adults over 65.
- People who don’t get enough sun or who only do so with sunscreen or clothing completely covering their bodies. These criteria include those who work night shifts and those who live in extreme latitudes where months go by without much sun.
- People who have undergone bariatric (weight loss) surgery.
- Dark-skinned people, as vitamin D production due to sunlight is higher in light skin.
- People with malabsorption syndromes which affect how vitamin D is assimilated on an intestinal level. These include Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and coeliac disease.
- People who suffer from kidney disease, since vitamin D is “activated” in the kidneys.
Is Liposomal Vitamin D Effective?
Liposomal vitamin D, administered orally, comes highly recommended. It offers higher bioavailability and increases how much of the vitamin our bodies actually absorb. Liposomes are small vesicles made up of phospholipids, which allows them to transport vitamin D and preserve its stability until it reaches the intestines. Once there, the body assimilates more of it (12, 13).
Our liposomal vitamin D drops provide 50 mcg (2,000 IU) of vitamin D3 in a daily dose of 2 ml. Its fruity flavour is delightfully pleasant, so you can mix it into water, juice, or smoothies. Plus, it’s both vegan and gluten-free. Though this supplement is not a replacement for a balanced diet, it can be a great help during the winter!
Vitamin D, also known as calciferol, has two active forms: vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). There are fairly few foods with vitamin D; fish, liver, and cod liver oil are the best natural sources of cholecalciferol (D3). Vitamin D2 is found in some types of mushrooms.
Exposure to sunlight, eating fortified foods, and taking vitamin D supplements will help satisfy your body’s need for this nutrient. Cow’s milk is almost always fortified with vitamin D. Plus, nowadays the vitamin is added to margarine, juice, vegetable-based drinks, tofu, and nutritional yeast.
When you reflect on your usual diet, do you think you eat enough foods with vitamin D? Feel free to leave us your answer – plus, help us reach more people by sharing this article.