Vitamin D has become one of the most popular supplements in recent years thanks to increasing interest from the scientific community, which is continuing to find new links between vitamin D and various health concerns. In fact, vitamin D has become so popular, it’s even earned itself a nickname: the Sunshine Vitamin.
That nickname, however, has become somewhat of a blessing and a curse. While it’s true the human body produces natural vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight, it’s easy to forget that we can also get this vital nutrient from our daily diet… we just need to know which foods to keep stocked in the pantry.
During the winter months — especially for folks living in northern climates — the sun’s rays just are not powerful enough to provide adequate exposure. Thus, our bodies can’t produce enough vitamin D to keep up with our daily needs. Even in the summer, the push to bathe ourselves in sunscreen lotions and sprays further reduces our opportunities to produce our own vitamin D.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
So, we need to look past the fun nickname and focus more on satisfying our daily nutritional requirements for vitamin D through our diets. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists the following recommendations for daily vitamin D intake:
- Birth to 12 months: 400 IU
- Children 1-13 years: 600 IU
- Teens 14-18 years: 600 IU
- Adults 19-70 years: 600 IU
- Adults 71 years and older: 800 IU
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 600 IU
According to the NIH, “Vitamin D... is needed for health and to maintain strong bones. It does so by helping the body absorb calcium (one of bone’s main building blocks) from food and supplements.”1 Thus, a deficiency in vitamin D most often leads to a decrease in bone health, specifically bone density — a problem that only compounds the older you get, as the body’s natural ability to produce vitamin D decreases over time. Severe vitamin D deficiency is also being studied for possible connections to cardiovascular health, blood pressure and immune health.
Top Foods High in Vitamin D
Unlike most minerals and some other vitamins, vitamin D poses a bit more of a challenge when it comes to diet. It’s simply not a natural component of most foods. In fact, in the standard American diet, fortified foods like milk and cereal are the most common sources of dietary vitamin D. However, there are a few go-to sources — especially from the sea — you can easily incorporate into your regular meal plan.
Fatty fish caught in the wild are Mother Nature’s best sources of natural vitamin D. Plus, with fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, you also get the bonus of adding some healthy omega-3 fatty acids to your diet.
- Salmon: 3 ounces = approx. 400 IU (66% daily value (DV))
- Mackerel: 3 ounces = approx. 540 IU (90% DV)
- Sardines: 3 ounces = approx. 165 IU (28% DV)
- Canned tuna: 3 ounces = approx. 155 IU (26% DV)
- Cod Liver Oil: 1 tsp = approx 440 IU (73% DV)
While liver and onions may have been a staple a few decades ago, this dish is not as popular today. Nonetheless, beef liver provides a small amount of natural vitamin D. With a small 3-ounce portion, you can get about 40 IU of vitamin D (about 6% DV).
Like beef liver, egg yolks don’t provide nearly enough vitamin D to satisfy your daily requirement, but each single yolk does offer about 40 IU (6% DV). It’s yet another reason to add a healthy breakfast to your daily routine. Pair it with a glass of milk to boost your vitamin D intake.
Here in the United States, almost all our milk comes fortified with about 400 IU of vitamin D per quart, according to the NIH. Check the labels to be sure, and take a look at the orange juice you buy, as it, too, could be fortified with vitamin D.
Here’s a fun fact for trivia night: mushrooms can produce their own vitamin D from sunlight just like humans. Unfortunately, mushrooms tend to be grown in dark, damp conditions without much sunlight exposure, so check for certain varieties and brands that are grown under ultraviolet light, which spurs that natural vitamin D production.
Like milk, most breakfast cereals come fortified with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D. Since many Americans and their children start the day with cereal, cereal manufacturers give us a helpful boost by adding in key amounts of essential nutrients. Yet, the daily value of vitamin D that cereals provide is often much lower than the dietary recommendation. For example, like most fortified cereals, Kellogg’s Raisin Bran contains only 10 percent of the daily value recommended for vitamin D.2
How to Get More Vitamin D
As you can see, most foods — unless fortified — are poor sources of vitamin D, so it’s important to pay close attention (especially during the winter) to what you’re putting on your plate to keep your levels up. Read your food labels and consider a vitamin D supplement if you find you’re not getting enough to satisfy your daily requirement.
For example, one serving size of Swanson Health’s High-Potency Vitamin D-3 supplement provides 1,000 IU — 250 percent of the adult daily value.
A daily vitamin D supplement can help remove the guesswork in figuring out if you are getting enough vitamin D; moreover, doctors and nutritionists often recommend higher daily vitamin D intake than the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), especially if you are at risk for vitamin D deficiency, have symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, or have been tested for vitamin D deficiency.
The Vitamin D Council, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about vitamin D and vitamin D deficiency, recommends average adults supplement 5,000 IU of vitamin D-3 daily.3 Since recommended daily intakes can vary widely between organizations and healthcare professionals, it’s best to consult your physician or nutritionist to determine the best daily intake of vitamin D for your optimal health.
1 National Institutes of Health: U.S. National Library of Medicine. Vitamin D Deficiency. https://medlineplus.gov/vitaminddeficiency.html (Accessed 10/30/2017)
2 Kellogg Raisin Bran. Nutrition Label. https://www.kelloggs.com/en_US/products/kellogg-s-raisin-bran-cereal-product.html#nutrition-modal (Accessed 10/30/2017)
3 How Do I Get the Vitamin D My Body Needs. Vitamin D Council.
https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/ (Accessed 10/30/2017)
Updated | 4/1/2021