Vitamin D is an essential part of maintaining your health, yet most people don’t realize how important it really is. Almost all of us have probably been deficient at one point or another, whether we’ve realized it or not. Between 75% and 90% of people in the United States are thought to have a vitamin D deficiency, and getting enough can sometimes be tricky.1 Here are the three main ways to obtain vitamin D.
The most common and natural way to soak up vitamin D is via the largest organ in your body: your skin! How much vitamin D you’re actually being exposed to (and soaking in) from the sun though, can vary greatly, depending on the time of day, the color of your skin, where you are located, and if you've applied sunscreen.
Sunbathers unite! We love a good beach day, but know that it’s not always necessary to lay out for long hours in order to obtain the vitamin D you need. It happens relatively quickly; usually around half the time it takes for your skin to begin to burn, which could be just 15 minutes for a very fair skinned person, or a couple hours for an olive or dark complexion. Stephen Honig, MD, and director of the Osteoporosis Center for Joint Diseases in New York City says, "if you're going to get it from the sun, about 20 to 25 minutes of exposure is helpful.” Sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 8 or more appear to block UV rays. However, most people don’t apply sufficient amounts of sunscreen, cover all sun-exposed skin, or reapply sunscreen regularly in an effort to avoid sun damage. Therefore, skin likely synthesizes some vitamin D even when it is protected by sunscreen as typically applied.2
Food is another way to ensure you’re getting the right amount of nutrients, including vitamin D. The Institute of Medicine has set the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin D at 600 international units (IU) for everyone under the age of 70, and 800 IU for adults 70+. However, many experts believe that is too low. Althea Zanecosky, MS, a registered dietitian, nutrition educator and former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states, “many physicians are now advising 2,000 mg daily for those with low blood levels.” Here is a list of foods known to provide additional amounts of vitamin D to your diet.3
- Wild-caught fish (447 IU in 3 oz salmon; 720 IU in 1 oz mackerel fillet)
- Tuna (154 IU in 3 oz portion)
- Orange Juice (137 IU in 8 fl oz)
- Fortified Dairy (specifically in milk or yogurt, 124 IU in 8 fl oz of whole milk; 60-80 IU in 1 container or 6 oz yogurt)
- Fortified Breakfast Cereals (40-80 IUs in 1 cup)
- Eggs (41 IU per whole, large egg)
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it has potential to build up in the body, and is not as easily excreted as water-soluble vitamins. Talk to a doctor before taking any dosage of supplements, but know that they are available as an option when you need to add more vitamin D to your diet. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) set a level of 4,000 IU as the "tolerable upper limit" or maximum amount that is safe to consume daily, though if you’re severely deficient, you may need far more than this to normalize your nutrient level. The precursor to vitamin D can be found in both plant and animal products, but there are two primary types of supplementary vitamin D:
- Vitamin D2: made by irradiating plant life (e.g., found in mushrooms and most fortified in most dairy products)
- Vitamin D3: typically made by your body upon exposure to sunlight
New research suggests that vitamin D3 is twice as effective as vitamin D2 in raising levels of the nutrient in the body. The findings via the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Surrey suggested that people who aim to consume more D3 through eating fish, eggs, or taking supplements will be twice as likely to raise their vitamin D levels compared to those only consuming vitamin D2 from the following sources: mushrooms, fortified bread, or D2 containing supplements.
Interested in exploring what vitamin D3 options may be right for you? Check out some of Swanson’s vitamin D supplement picks here.
Though it’s the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D intake is more serious than you might realize, and deficiencies can have a drastic impact on your overall health and wellness. Curious about your vitamin D levels? Talk to your physician about getting tested.
It’s important to stay in-the-know, and make informed choices about your vitamin D consumption. With that said, what’s your favorite way to get your daily dose of vitamin D? Tell us in the comments below!
For more on Vitamin D, read Say Hello to the Sunshine Vitamin: Top Foods High in Vitamin D and see the amazing alphabet vitamins your should know for everyday wellness in Amazing Alphabet Vitamins: The Six Vitamins You Need to Know.
1 Anderson, David. (2017). Time to Change Vitamin D Guidelines? William Reed Business Media. (Accessed 3/7/2018)
2 Adams JS, Hewison M. (2010). Update in vitamin D. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, 95(2):471-8. (Accessed 3/7/2018)
3 Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. (2016). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/ (Accessed 3/7/2018)
4 (dataset) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2017. USDA Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies 2013-2014. Food Surveys Research Group Home Page, http://www.ars.usda.gov/nea/bhnrc/fsrg
Updated 03/07/2018 (Originally Published 09/08/2017)
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.