Vitamin D can be an elusive, but very important, part of a healthy diet. From bone health to nutrient absorption, we all need sufficient levels of vitamin D to develop strong bones for life.
So how can you ensure you meet your daily requirements of this essential nutrient? These are the best food sources of vitamin D and what to do when your diet (and the sun) doesn't cut it.
What is Vitamin D?
There seems to be a lot of talk about vitamin D, but what exactly is this sought-after vitamin and why is it important? Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays an essential role in calcium absorption and retention in the body.
Your gut needs vitamin D in order to absorb all of the calcium you consume (without enough vitamin D, you may only absorb a small fraction of the calcium you eat). You also need vitamin D for your bones to retain healthy levels of calcium for normal growth, lifelong strength, and to avoid injuries.
There are two ways humans can absorb vitamin D. First, we most readily accept vitamin D from direct sun exposure. When our bare skin (free of sunscreen, makeup, lotions, clothing, and other barriers), is exposed to the sun, it absorbs ultraviolet-B light. Then your liver and kidneys turn this light into a vitamin that's usable by your body.
However, factors like air pollution, geographical location, skin color, and even age and weight can reduce the amount of vitamin D your body is able to absorb. That's where dietary vitamin D comes into play. Eating vitamin D rich foods and supplements is the other way to ensure you meet your daily requirements for vitamin D when relying on the sun alone doesn't cut it.
How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?
According to research performed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), your vitamin D needs increase only moderately as you age.
- Infants less than 1 years of age need 400 IU.
- 1- to 70-year olds need 600 IU.
- Adults 70+ years of age need 800 IU.
Best Food Sources of Vitamin D
So how do you get in those IUs, and ensure your family does too? Here are the top vitamin D rich foods to incorporate into your diet:
- Canned Tuna: This inexpensive pantry stake contains up to 268 IU of vitamin D per serving.
- Fortified milk: Many varieties of milk, both dairy and non-dairy, are fortified with vitamin D. Most cow's milk contains 115 to 130 IU per cup. Fortified soy milk often contains 107 to 117 IU per cup. Check the nutrition label to verify that your milk is fortified. When you consume vitamin D from milk, you're pairing it with calcium to aid in the absorption.
- Mushrooms: This is an excellent plant-based vitamin D source. Mushrooms actually produce vitamin D from sun exposure like humans, and wild mushrooms, in particular, can contain over 2,000 IU of vitamin D per 3.5-ounce serving.
- Salmon: Sockeye salmon contains 570 IU per serving.
- Eggs: The vitamin D in eggs comes from the yolks, which contain 44 IU per yolk.
Other Fortified Foods
The list of vitamin D containing foods is relatively short, and many of these foods aren't part of a standard daily diet. That's why many packaged foods are fortified with extra IUs of this essential vitamin for bone health.
In addition to milk, the most common vitamin D-fortified foods include:
- Infant formula
- Breakfast cereal
- Orange juice
If you're having trouble filling your diet with vitamin D rich or fortified foods, supplementation can make a difference. Over 50% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, particularly in the Northern regions of the country.
So it's important to monitor your levels of vitamin D and supplement as necessary. A lifetime of healthy vitamin D intake can ensure your bones develop normally and stay strong well into adulthood.
Khazai N, Judd SE, Tangpricha V. Calcium and vitamin D: skeletal and extraskeletal health. Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2008;10(2):110-117. doi:10.1007/s11926-008-0020-y
Nair R, Maseeh A. Vitamin D: The "sunshine" vitamin. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012;3(2):118-126. doi:10.4103/0976-500X.95506
Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin D. (2020, October 9). Retrieved February 01, 2021, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/