Vitamin D is a critical fat-soluble vitamin that’s needed for our body to maintain serum calcium, which supports cellular processes, neuromuscular function, and bone ossification.
This vitamin also plays a major role in immune response and is critical in the prevention of osteoporosis, cancer, depression, diabetes, and obesity.
One of the easiest ways to get our daily dose of this vitamin is to go outside! Sunlight allows the body to synthesize vitamin D naturally. All you need is 5 to 15 minutes, 2-3 times a week without sunscreen or too much clothing to boost your levels. Get your sun in the morning or late afternoon while it’s not too strong to help avoid skin damage. If sun exposure exceeds 10 to 15 minutes, always remember to use sunscreen.
Since vitamin D is not naturally present in a wide variety of foods, it’s important to know what to eat to get this nutrient into your diet. The best sources include animal liver, fatty fish, egg yolk, and fish oils — but you can also get vitamin D through fortified foods (although it’s always best to go with a natural source.)
Here are my top 8 foods rich in vitamin D to start adding into your regimen:
Try this recipe for baked wild salmon.
2. Rainbow trout
3 ounces of cooked rainbow trout provides over 100 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin D. It packs in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and protein. All rainbow trout in the United States is farm raised which helps it have lower mercury content than other popular fish. If you’re looking for a wild fish option, try cod.
Get the recipe for rainbow trout with apple pearls and a Riesling butter sauce.
Mushrooms are a delicious source of vitamin D that offer several B vitamins and potassium, too. Vitamin D levels vary with each mushroom type, such as shiitake, portobello, morel, and chanterelle. You can also buy mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet light giving them even higher vitamin D levels. I like to get creative with these guys, adding them into salads, omelets, and pasta dishes.
Check out this herby barley salad with butter-basted mushrooms.
4. Egg yolk
Another reason we should always eat the whole egg! Vitamin D is found in the yolk of the egg only. Eggs also contain all your essential amino acids and are a great source of choline and healthy fats. Always choose free-range or pastured eggs, as they contain 4 to 6 times more vitamin D.
Try this recipe for a tasty tahini egg bowl.
5. Canned tuna
Canned tuna is an easy way to get in vitamin D. Its longer shelf life makes it a great pantry staple to throw into meals as a fabulous source of protein, too. Always make sure it’s from sustainable sources and choose light tuna with the lowest amount of mercury possible. Safecatch and Wild Planet are great options.
Whip up this Thai tuna power bowl.
Sardines are one of the most nutrient-dense seafoods, providing lots of protein, many essential vitamins and minerals, and anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Since sardines eat plankton, they don’t carry heavy metals and toxins like many other fish do, thus they’re one of the cleanest seafood sources. Sardines can be bought fresh or in a can and are another easy addition to the pantry for both protein and vitamin D.
There’s plenty to do with them! Check out this recipe for grilled sardines with coarsely chopped green herbs, or whip up this healthy lemon parmesan sardine pasta. If you need something super fast, snack on this 10-minute sardine toast.
7. Swiss cheese
Swiss cheese is another way to pick up your vitamin D, along with calcium and vitamin K, which work together to keep your bones strong. Swiss cheese is easy to shred and sprinkle over a salad, throw into veggies, or bake onto bread. Try to buy organic, raw cheeses when possible.
Try these low-carb, keto-friendly cheese crackers.
8. Cod liver oil
Cod liver oil is one of the top sources of vitamin D and also happens to be a rich source of vitamin A and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. If the taste is hard for you to tolerate, take it in capsule form.
Why it matters: Vitamin D is a critical vitamin that many of us lack since it isn’t easy to come across in our everyday food supply. It’s important to start adding these nutrient-dense foods into our diet. Toss mushrooms into your egg omelet, choose salmon or sardines for your protein source, and enjoy a few more minutes of sunshine this summer to make sure you have healthy levels of vitamin D!
Nathalie Rhone, MS, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian and functional medicine nutritionist with a BA in Psychology from Cornell University and a MS in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She’s the founder of Nutrition by Nathalie LLC, a private nutrition practice in New York City focusing on health and wellness using an integrative approach, and All Good Eats, a social media health and wellness brand. When she isn’t working with her clients or on media projects, you can find her traveling with her husband and their mini-Aussie, Brady.
Additional research, writing, and editing contributed by Chelsey Fein.