Vitamin D is special because you can absorb it through food as well as sunlight. Unfortunately about half of the population are deficient (1,2). This deficiency comes from people spending too much time inside, education about wearing sunscreen and eating foods low in vitamin D.
The recommended daily dose of vitamin D is between 600-1000 IU depending on your lifestyle.
The best source for vitamin D bar none is sunlight, however getting adequate sunlight is difficult for some people so here is a list of foods high in vitamin D:
Canned tuna is cheap, has a long shelf life and has a mild, easily palatable flavor. It also has 236 IU of vitamin D per serving which is about half of the recommended daily intake. It also provides a good intake of vitamin K and is low in fat (source).
Don’t rely on tuna too much as it contains mercury, which can lead to depression, fatigue or many other problems so go easy on the tuna
A serve of 3.5 ounces of Salmon contains up to 685 IU of Vitamin D (source). Wild salmon tends to have higher levels, up to 1300 IU per serving while farmed salmon can contain 25% less. Either way, salmon is still a great addition to your diet and will up your daily intake of vitamin D and essential fatty acids.
Other Types Of Fatty Fish
Herring is a fantastic source of vitamin D and can be eated raw, pickled, smoked or canned. The Fresh Atlantic species of Herring provides a huge 1682 IU of vitami D per 3.5 ounces – upwards of four times our daily need (source).
Once processed it does lose some of these nutrients, for example the pickled herring has 680 IU per serving, but this is still in excess of the average intake need. Just watch out for added salt which some people need to cut back on.
Sardines are another excellent source of vitamin D. A serving of 3.5 ounces has 272 IU, or up to 68% of the recommended daily intake (source).
Other fatty fish includes species like Halibut that packs 600 IU per serving or Mackerel with a smaller 360 IU per serving (3,4). All these fish are nutrient dense and a great healthy addition to your diet.
Cod Liver Oil
If you don’t like eating fish then taking a fish oil supplement is the next best thing. You might recall cod liver oil being used to treat vitamin deficiencies in children and as little as a teaspoon of cod liver oil provides about 450 IU of vitamin D. It also provides essential omega-3 fatty acids, as well as being rich in Vitamin A.
Shrimp is a delcious shellfish with excellent levels of other nutrients. 152 IU of Vitamin D. However they are high in cholesterol which may be concerning if you need to watch your levels. Keep in mind that several recent studies concluded that dietary cholesterol intake does not necessarily mean high blood cholesterol levels, so for a healthy average person; shrimp will be a healthy addition to your diet.
A popular seafood, oysters are a species of clam found in salt water. Not only are they tasty, they are low in calories but high in vitamins. For example 3.5 ounces has 68 calories but has 320 IU of Vitamin D. This serving also provides up to six times the recommended daily intake of Vitamin B12, Copper, and Zinc – making it more effective than most multivitamins.
Whole eggs are another great source of Vitamin D which is great news for people who do not like seafood. The egg white holds high levels of lean protein while the egg yolk is responsible for the majority of the vitamins, minerals and fats.
One cage produced egg yolk has between 18-39 IU of Vitamin D, which is fairly low (5,6). Chickens raised free-ranged in pasture – or out in the sunlight will give egg yolks like four times as much vitamin D (7).
You can also buy eggs from chickens fed with a vitamin D supplement. This nutrient is passed into the egg yolk for an amazing 6000 IU of vitamin D (8).
Mushrooms are the only natural, plant based source of vitamin D. Other plant based sources are fortified. Mushrooms use sunlight to create Vitamin D much like humans (9).
It is slightly different – a variant called D2 rather than the animal produced D3. D2 is slightly less effective of raising levels of Vitamin D (10).
Wild mushrooms are the best source with some containing over 2000 IU of vitamin D2 per 3.5 ounces (11) whereas commercially grown mushrooms are kept in the dark, and so do not metabolise sunlight. This results in very small amounts of vitamin D2.
You can choose some brands that treat their mushrooms with UV light to increase their Vitamin D levels, normally achieving up to 350 IU per serve (12).
Specially Fortified Foods
Aside from natural sources of Vitamin D, you can supplement with fortified foods.
Different types of milk includes cow and soy brands have added Vitamin D, alongside their natural sources of vitamins and minerals.
Soy milk is a great alternative for vegetarians and vegans looking to include higher levels of Vitamin D, especially as they are at risk of deficiency.
Orange Juice is a source for those who are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy. Orange juices often contain added vitamin D and calcium. One cup of fortified orange juice holds up to 142 IU of vitamin D which is about 40% of the recommended daily intake (17).
Some governments also fortify breakfast cereals and oatmeal with vitamin D, especially as children are at risk for being deficient. Half a cup of these cereals can give up to 154 IU or over 30% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin D (18,19). These cereals or oats tend to contain less vitamin D than the natural sources, like fish but are a great way to increase your intake.