Interest in vitamin D and its role in our overall health journey is growing.
We know that vitamin D affects many bodily functions, including bone health. Research also suggests that low vitamin D levels may be a risk factor for autoimmune diseases (
Many people don’t get enough vitamin D. It’s hard to know how many people are deficient because experts are still debating about what target levels should be (
Research suggests that about 24% of people in the United States are vitamin D deficient. Other areas of the world may have higher rates of deficiency. It’s estimated that in Europe, about 40% of the population has vitamin D deficiency (
Our bodies produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. There are a few reasons why it’s hard to get enough vitamin D this way.
To reduce the risk of skin cancer, it’s smart to cover up, wear sunscreen, and avoid being outside during peak sun hours. And depending on where you live in the world, it may just not be possible to have enough year-round sun exposure.
That’s why getting vitamin D from food or supplements is best.
Daily recommended dose of vitamin D
The daily value (DV) for vitamin D is 800 IU (20 mcg). The vitamin D content is listed as a percentage of the DV on the nutrition facts label on food packages. This tells you what amount of your daily vitamin D requirement the food will provide (
It’s best to get vitamin D from food or supplements.
Whether you need a vitamin D supplement in addition to food and sun exposure is a question to ask your doctor. They can also help you find out if you are deficient.
Here are 7 healthy foods that are high in vitamin D.
Salmon is a popular fatty fish and a great source of vitamin D.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Composition Database, one 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of farmed Atlantic salmon contains 526 IU of vitamin D, or 66% of the DV (
Whether the salmon is wild or farmed can make a big difference in the vitamin D content.
On average, wild-caught salmon has more vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D will vary depending on where the salmon is caught and the time of year.
One study showed that the vitamin D content of salmon caught in the Baltic sea ranged from 556–924 IU of vitamin D per one 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, providing 70–111% of the DV (
Wild salmon typically contains more vitamin D than farmed salmon, but both are good sources of vitamin D. In a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, farmed salmon contains around 66% of the DV and wild salmon can contain up to 160% of the DV.
Herring is a fish eaten around the world. It is often smoked or pickled. This small fish is also a great source of vitamin D.
Fresh Atlantic herring provides 214 IU per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, which is 27% of the DV (
If fresh fish isn’t your thing, pickled herring is also a good source of vitamin D, providing 113 IU per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, or 14% of the DV. Pickled herring also contains a high amount of sodium, at 870 mg per serving. It may not be a great option if you are trying to lower your salt intake (
Herring contains 214 IU of vitamin D per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving. Pickled herring, sardines, and other fatty fish, such as halibut and mackerel, are also good sources.
Cod liver oil is a popular supplement. If you don’t like fish, taking cod liver oil is another way to get nutrients that are hard to get otherwise.
It’s an excellent source of vitamin D. At about 450 IU per teaspoon (4.9 mL), it clocks in at a massive 56% of the DV. It has been used for many years to treat vitamin D deficiency. It also has a history of being used as part of treating rickets, psoriasis, and tuberculosis (
Cod liver oil is also very high in vitamin A, with 150% of the DV in just a single teaspoon (4.9 mL). Vitamin A can be toxic in high amounts. The safe upper limit (UL) for vitamin A is 3,000 mcg. A single teaspoon (4.9 mL) of cod liver oil contains 1,350 mcg of vitamin A.
In addition, cod liver oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s may play a role in heart health and may reduce inflammation in the body. Along with fatty fish, cod liver oil is another source of these fatty acids. If you don’t eat fish, it can be hard to get enough omega-3 in your diet (
Cod liver oil contains 450 IU of vitamin D per teaspoon (4.9 mL), or 56% of the DV. It is also high in other nutrients, such as vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids.
Many people enjoy canned tuna because of its flavor and easy storage methods. It is typically cheaper than buying fresh fish.
Canned light tuna packs up to 269 IU of vitamin D in a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, which is 34% of the DV (
Mercury is a heavy metal found in many types of fish. Bigger types of fish contain more mercury than smaller ones. The amount of mercury in canned tuna depends on the type of tuna.
Light canned tuna comes from smaller fish and is lower in mercury. White canned tuna is higher in mercury (16).
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) recommends only a single 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of light tuna per week. If you’re concerned about mercury consumption, talk with your doctor about the appropriate amount of tuna to eat per week for you (16).
Canned tuna contains 269 IU of vitamin D per serving. Choose light tuna and eat no more than one serving per week to prevent methylmercury buildup.
Fish are not the only source of vitamin D. Whole eggs are another good source, as well as a wonderfully nutritious food.
Most of the protein in an egg is found in the white, and the fat, vitamins, and minerals are found mostly in the yolk.
The yolk from one large egg contains 37 IU of vitamin D, or 5% of the DV (
A few factors affect the vitamin D level of egg yolks.
Sun exposure for the chicken, the vitamin D content of the chicken feed, and exposing liquid yolk to UV light will increase vitamin D in the egg. When given the same feed, pasture-raised chickens that roam outside in the sunlight produce eggs with levels 3–4 times higher (19, 20).
Additionally, eggs from chickens given vitamin D enriched feed may have up to 34,815 IU of vitamin D per 100 grams of yolk. So if one yolk is about 17 grams, that means you’ll get around 2.5 times the DV of vitamin D in a single egg (
Choosing eggs either from chickens raised outside or marketed as high in vitamin D can be a great way to meet your daily requirements.
Eggs from commercially raised hens contain about 37 IU of vitamin D per yolk. However, eggs from hens raised outside or fed vitamin D enriched feed contain much higher levels.
Other than fortified foods, mushrooms are the only sufficient non-animal source of vitamin D.
Like humans, mushrooms can synthesize vitamin D when exposed to UV light (
However, mushrooms produce vitamin D2, whereas animals produce vitamin D3 (
Some wild mushrooms are excellent sources of vitamin D2 because of their exposure to UV light. Morels are a type of mushroom that grows in the wild. One cup of these mushrooms contains 136 IU of vitamin D, which is 17% of the DV (
Many commercially grown mushrooms are grown in the dark and contain very little D2. Some mushrooms are being treated with ultraviolet (UV) light to boost their vitamin D content. One cup of cremini mushrooms exposed to UV light contains 1,110 IU of vitamin D, which is 139% of the DV (24,
Mushrooms can synthesize vitamin D2 when exposed to UV light. Only wild mushrooms or mushrooms treated with UV light are good sources of vitamin D.
Natural sources of vitamin D are limited, especially if you’re vegetarian or don’t like fish.
Fortunately, some food products that don’t naturally contain vitamin D are fortified with this nutrient.
In several countries, cow’s milk is fortified with vitamin D. In the United States, 1 cup of fortified cow’s milk contains 115 IU of vitamin D per cup (237 mL), or about 15% of the DV (
For this reason, plant-based milk substitutes such as soy milk are often fortified with vitamin D, along with other nutrients usually found in cow’s milk.
For this reason, some companies fortify orange juice with vitamin D and other nutrients, such as calcium. One cup (237 mL) of fortified orange juice with breakfast can start your day off with up to 100 IU of vitamin D, or 12% of the DV (
However, orange juice isn’t a great option for everyone. For people prone to acid reflux, it can worsen symptoms.
If you live with diabetes, you may notice that juice causes a spike in your blood sugar level. That said, it’s a great option if you’re trying to treat a low blood sugar level.
Cereal and oatmeal
Cereals are another food that may be fortified with vitamin D.
Remember that not all cereals will contain vitamin D. It’s smart to check the nutrition label to find out how much vitamin D is in the product. Though fortified cereals and oatmeal provide less vitamin D than many natural sources, they can still be a good way to boost your intake.
Foods such as cow’s milk, soy milk, orange juice, cereals, and oatmeal are sometimes fortified with vitamin D. You will need to check the labels to find out the vitamin D content as it can vary widely. If the product is not fortified, it won’t be a source of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption in your body. This plays a key role in maintaining bone strength and skeletal integrity.
While the daily value (DV) of vitamin D is 800 IU per day, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) differs slightly depending on your age.
Children and adults ages 1–70 need approximately 600 IU of vitamin D per day. This can come from a combination of food sources and sunlight. Adults over 70 should aim for at least 800 IU (20 mcg) of vitamin D per day (
The RDA for calcium also varies by age. Children ages 4–8 need about 1,000 mg of calcium daily. Children ages 9–18 need approximately 1,300 mg daily. Adults ages 19–50 need about 1,000 mg daily. Over the age of 50, most people need 1,200 mg per day (
Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. This makes getting enough of both vitamin D and calcium crucial to maintaining bone health and preventing osteoporosis.
Although our bodies can make vitamin D from UV light from the sun, that’s not necessarily the best way to meet your needs.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend several steps to limit UV exposure to reduce the risk of skin cancer. These include spending more time in the shade, wearing sunscreen, and covering up when you are in the sun (
Because of this, food sources of vitamin D or vitamin D supplements are typically the best way to consistently and safely meet your vitamin D needs.
Getting enough vitamin D from your diet alone may be difficult, but not impossible. The foods listed in this article are some of the top sources of vitamin D available.
Eating plenty of these foods rich in vitamin D is a great way to make sure you get enough of this important nutrient.
Just one thing
If you’re interested in checking your vitamin D levels at home, a few quality options are available.