Which Foods Are Highest in Vitamin D3?

Vitamin D deficiency can affect your health in all manner of ways. The condition, also known as hypovitaminosis, can even make your bones brittle and breakable. Vitamin D deficits have also been linked to all sorts of disorders, from cardiovascular problems to depression and hair loss. 

If you’re hoping to prevent this deficiency, you might choose to eat products rich in the “animal” form of vitamin D, known as cholecalciferol or vitamin D3. Are you here to discover which foods are richest in vitamin D3? If so, you won’t want to miss this informative article! 

Key Ideas

  • Vitamin D3 can help us prevent the consequences of vitamin D deficiency. Among others, these include breaking bones more frequently and, according to some sources, a less healthy heart. 
  • Vitamin D3 is found primarily in foods originating from animals, such as salmon and herring. 
  • Your diet might not allow you to get enough vitamin D to avoid nutritional deficiencies. If so, you can rely on sun exposure or vitamin D supplements, which can also be found in liposomal form. 

The Best Vitamin D3 Foods

We can quantify vitamin D3 in micrograms (mcg) or with a standardized unit of measurement known as International Units (IU). According to Spain’s Agency of Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN), adults require the following amounts of vitamin D3 (1):

  • Adults below 70 (both sexes): 12.5 mcg/day or 500 IU/day
  • Adults 70 and over (both sexes): 15 mcg/day or 600 IU/day
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women: 15 mcg/day or 600 IU/day

Keep in mind that organizations in other countries may set higher daily recommended amounts to meet the specific needs of their population. But do you know which foods are best at raising your vitamin D3 levels (2)

Food (100 grams) Vitamin D3 Content Percentage of RDA*
Salmon668 IU (16.7 mcg)134%
Herring216 IU (5.4 mcg)43%
Canned sardines193 IU (4.8 mcg)80%
Tilapia150 IU (3.7 mcg) 30%
Canned tuna80 IU (2 mcg)16%
Pork78 IU (1.8 mcg)15.6%
Whole milk (fortified)51 IU (1.3 mcg)10%

*Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for a healthy adult under 70 years old who is not pregnant or breastfeeding (1)

Salmon

Just a hundred grams of salmon is enough to give you all the vitamin D3 you need! This delicate fish is one of the foods with the highest concentrations of this nutrient. You can prepare it in so many different ways; if you eat it raw (in sushi form, for example) make sure it was frozen beforehand. This prevents infection from Anisakis parasites. 

Vitamin D3 can help us avoid the consequences of vitamin D deficiency. Among others, these include breaking bones more frequently and, according to some sources, a less healthy heart. (Source: Briscoe: GrdJp16CPk8/ Unsplash.com)

Herring

This fish, a popular delicacy in the south of Spain, stores high amounts of vitamin D3, vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin E. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids (fats which, when eaten as part of a balanced diet, help maintain heart health). However, avoid salted herring if you suffer from high blood pressure, as they are high in sodium. 

Canned Sardines

This seemingly humble product is an amazing source of vitamin D3. It also contains B vitamins and is a delicious way to increase your protein consumption. For the lactose intolerant, canned sardines can also help you meet your calcium needs. Try spreading them over whole-wheat bread or adding them to your salads!

Tilapia

This inexpensive mild whitefish stores high amounts of vitamin D3. However, most (if not all) tilapia available in your go-to groceries and fish markets comes from fish farms where the fish are fed cheaply. As such, their heart-healthy fat content is lower than that of other fish. 

Overindulging in tilapia could raise your omega-6 fatty acid levels (these fats can cause inflammation when eaten in excess). Plus, some growers in “factory fish farms” use antibiotics and chemicals which make their way onto our plates. If you’re going to eat tilapia, either do so in moderation or opt for wild specimens (3, 4)

Vitamin D3 is primarily found in animal products like salmon and herring.  (Source: Dodzy: KmYhY6lZxzs/ Unsplash.com)

Canned Tuna

Canned tuna is a vitamin D3 source hiding in plain sight in your pantry.  On top of the protein and heart-healthy fatty acids they provide, tuna also offers vitamin A and vitamin E. If you’re on a diet, opt for tuna in water over higher-calorie versions canned in oil. 

To avoid the risk of heavy metal toxicity, refrain from eating too much tuna and alternate with other types of fish. Experts recommend that children and pregnant women stay away from red tuna (the most toxic kind). These vulnerable populations should ask a doctor to help determine how much canned tuna they can eat on a weekly basis (5)

Pork

Pork is one landlocked option which raises our levels of vitamin D3. A highly nutritious meat, it provides high amounts of vitamin A and B vitamins. Pork also stands out as a source of iron which our intestines absorb very efficiently, which is why it’s the perfect food to combat anaemia.  

Fortified Whole Milk

Milk that has been enriched and fortified has a good offering of vitamin D3. One glass of whole milk can contain up to 90 IU of this nutrient. When considered alongside its other nutrients such as calcium and protein, this makes it a very nutritious drink! If you can’t or won’t drink milk, there are also vegetable-based drinks fortified with this vitamin. 

Fortified milk offers a good deal of vitamin D3. (Fuente: Wimberley: 43843269/ 123rf.com)

Vitamin D3 in Your Diet: Secrets and Alternatives

Does your lack of vitamin D3 bother you? Have you been thinking of using food to prevent vitamin deficiency? You can include this nutrient as part of your everyday diet, but it’s also possible to complement your eating habits with sunlight or supplements. Do you know how it works? 

Vitamin D3 in Food

Does the process of cooking reduce food’s vitamin D3 content? One of the biggest advantages of vitamin D3 is its ability to withstand high temperatures. Home cooking barely affects food’s D3 levels, according to one study. Nevertheless, avoid burning or overcooking food; you want to keep any possible loss of the vitamin to a minimum (6, 7)

Can I get all the vitamin D3 I need through my diet? Some experts believe it can be tricky to meet our daily vitamin D3 needs through food alone. A “standard” diet provides 200 to 400 IU of this nutrient, meaning we should be complementing it with exposure to sunlight or vitamin supplements (8)

Remember to keep a balanced diet and exercise regularly. (Source: Drobot: 46986709/ 123rf.com)

The Sun: A Source of Vitamin D3

Did you know that your skin can “manufacture” vitamin D3? When the sun’s UV radiation comes into contact with the surface of your skin, a complex synthesizing process ensues which raises the levels of this vitamin in our bloodstream. It’s one free and vegan-approved way to obtain precious D3. 

But it’s not all upsides. Excessive sun exposure increases the risk of sunburn, premature aging, and even skin cancers like melanoma. For these reasons, we recommend sunbathing wisely (15 minutes a day in the summer months will suffice). Avoid tanning beds, and don’t forget your sunscreen! 

Supplements to Stop Vitamin D3 Deficiency

Vitamin D supplements (especially those with vitamin D3) are a great way of preventing nutrient deficiency. Do you think these products might be the perfect option for you? If so, keep these secrets in mind: 

  • Fish oil can be considered a natural supplement to help keep your vitamin D levels within healthy range. However, its unpleasant taste has led to a drop in popularity with consumers. 
  • Capsules, pills, and drops are the most frequent methods you’ll find for taking vitamin D3 supplements. You can find the nutrient on its own or combined with others, such as vitamin K2.
  • Taking your vitamin D3 supplement with a full meal will improve how well it’s absorbed.
  • If you are vegan, you’ll have to choose supplements with the vegetable form of vitamin D, known as vitamin D2. This molecule is less efficient than D3 when it comes to preventing vitamin D deficiency. Some have begun to develop “vegan D3” supplements derived from lichen. 
  • Ask your doctor before using vitamin D3 supplements. Children and pregnant women should not take them without the approval of a specialist.
We suggest you sunbathe wisely and use sunscreen. (Source: Rawpixel: 106368375/ 123rf.com)

The Liposome Alternative

Liposome technology could separate the world of nutritional supplements into a “before” and “after”. Liposomal capsules envelop nutrients in “bubbles” of phospholipids – molecules which resemble our own cell membranes. This prevents them from breaking down prematurely and lets them enter our bodies more efficiently. 

Until relatively recently, finding liposomal supplements was a tricky process. Today, however, these products’ popularity is on the rise. If what you’re looking for is a way to prevent vitamin D3 deficiency, you’ll find many liposomal options which can be of great service: 

  • Liposomal vitamin D3
  • Liposomal vitamin D3 + K2
  • Liposomal multivitamins

Our Conclusions

Are you hoping to avoid the worrying consequences of vitamin D deficiency? This deficit can make your bones more breakable, negatively affect your mood, and (possibly) predispose you to cardiovascular problems in the future. A diet rich in vitamin D3 will help you battle the lack of this nutrient. 

However, you may not manage to satisfy your vitamin D3 requirements through food alone. Sunbathing wisely and choosing a supplement (if your doctor approves) are two other ways of ensuring your vitamin reserves stay within recommended levels. Keep an eye on them! 

Do you include vitamin D3-rich foods in your diet? Have you already tried liposomal supplements? Feel free to tell us about your experiences, and don’t forget to share this article.

References (8)

1. Calleja CA, Cámara M, Daschner Á, Fernández P, Franco CM, Giner R, et al. Informe del Comité Científico de la Agencia Española de Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición (AESAN) sobre Ingestas Nutricionales de Referencia para la población española. En: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, editor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2019. p. 1–30.
Source

2. FoodData Central [Internet].
Source

3. Weaver KL, Ivester P, Chilton JA, Wilson MD, Pandey P, Chilton FH. The Content of Favorable and Unfavorable Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Found in Commonly Eaten Fish. J Am Diet Assoc [Internet]. 2008 ;108(7):1178–85.
Source

4. Tilapia Recommendations from the Seafood Watch Program [Internet].
Source

5. AESAN. Mercurio – Agencia Española de Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición [Internet].
Source

6. Jakobsen J, Knuthsen P. Stability of vitamin D in foodstuffs during cooking. Food Chem [Internet]. 2014 ;148:170–5.
Source

7. Mattila P, Ronkainen R, Lehikoinen K, Piironen V. Effect of Household Cooking on the Vitamin D content in Fish, Eggs, and Wild Mushrooms. J Food Compos Anal [Internet]. 1999 Sep 1 ;12(3):153–60.
Source

8. Gallagher JC. Vitamin D and Aging [Internet]. Vol. 42, Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America. NIH Public Access; 2013. p. 319–32.
Source

Official AESAN document
Calleja CA, Cámara M, Daschner Á, Fernández P, Franco CM, Giner R, et al. Informe del Comité Científico de la Agencia Española de Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición (AESAN) sobre Ingestas Nutricionales de Referencia para la población española. En: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, editor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2019. p. 1–30.
Go to source
USDA official article
FoodData Central [Internet].
Go to source
Scientific article
Weaver KL, Ivester P, Chilton JA, Wilson MD, Pandey P, Chilton FH. The Content of Favorable and Unfavorable Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Found in Commonly Eaten Fish. J Am Diet Assoc [Internet]. 2008 ;108(7):1178–85.
Go to source
Official website
Tilapia Recommendations from the Seafood Watch Program [Internet].
Go to source
Official AESAN website
AESAN. Mercurio – Agencia Española de Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición [Internet].
Go to source
Scientific article
Jakobsen J, Knuthsen P. Stability of vitamin D in foodstuffs during cooking. Food Chem [Internet]. 2014 ;148:170–5.
Go to source
Scientific article
Mattila P, Ronkainen R, Lehikoinen K, Piironen V. Effect of Household Cooking on the Vitamin D content in Fish, Eggs, and Wild Mushrooms. J Food Compos Anal [Internet]. 1999 Sep 1 ;12(3):153–60.
Go to source
Scientific article
Gallagher JC. Vitamin D and Aging [Internet]. Vol. 42, Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America. NIH Public Access; 2013. p. 319–32.
Go to source
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