Vitamin D is essential for proper bone health, and many people are aware that it is responsible for helping the body to absorb calcium, which is also vital for the bones. However, recent research suggests that vitamin D may be packed with more value than we originally thought, and could be a major factor in fighting back against depression, protecting against colds, and more. The good news is that most people aren’t classed as vitamin D deficient today. However, they may not be getting enough of this vitamin for optimum health either.
Where Can You Get Vitamin D?
A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to a number of significant problems, including improper bone development, rickets in children, increased cancer risk, a weakened immune system, poor hair growth, and even a condition known as osteomalacia. At the same time, excess vitamin D can be a factor in pushing the body to absorb too much calcium, which leads to an increased risk of kidney stones, and heart disease. Currently the recommended U.S. daily amount for vitamin D is at 600 International Units (IU) for individuals between the ages of 1 and 70. At the same time, the toxicity threshold is considered to be somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 IU a day, although there is some debate surrounding these numbers.
But where can you get the right doses of Vitamin D? There are three options: supplements, certain foods, and sunlight. Getting either vitamin D2 or D3 from sunlight exposure, supplements, or foods should be enough to raise your 25(OH)D level, which allows your body to continue functioning properly. However, some experts believe that the body finds absorbing D3 much easier than dealing with D2. Following, we’ll cover some of the best available natural sources of vitamin D.
Exposure to the UVB rays in sunlight causes a natural reaction with the cholesterol in your skin cells, which spurs the body into creating vitamin D. However, because of the skin cancer risk that naturally comes with spending extended periods of time in the sunlight without any sun protection, there is no official recommendation so far that suggests we should be catching more rays. Fortunately, even a very small amount of sun exposure without sunscreen can be enough to heighten your natural vitamin D levels.
If you’re going to get the vitamin D you need from the sun, then anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes should be helpful, depending on where you live, the time of year, and the sun’s position in the sky. Keep in mind that the sun is far less likely to supply your body with its daily needs of vitamin D when it is at higher latitudes in the sky, as well as when it is winter, or if you are dark skinned. Not only does skin pigment block the light that creates vitamin D, but the process also becomes less efficient with age. Remember that simply exposing yourself to sunlight through a window will not work, as the glass will block the UVB rays you need, while still providing ample opportunity for you to burn.
- Fatty Fish
Some types of fatty or oily fish can be a great source of vitamin D, with common options including trout, salmon, tuna, mackerel, and eel. For example, about three ounces of sockeye salmon in the form of a fillet contains around 450 IU or international units of vitamin D, which is a hefty amount of the 600 IUs that the Institute of Medicine typically recommend for a daily dietary allowance. At the same time, you benefit from a dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
For Trout, the IU for vitamin D are:
|Per 100g||Per 71g||fillet Per 85g|
|759 IU||539 IU||645 IU|
- Fortified Milk
Today, a significant portion of the cow’s milk that we get within the United States has already been fortified using Vitamin D. However, cheeses and ice creams are not. Typically, an 8-ounce glass of milk should contain around 100 IUs of vitamin D, and a 6-ounce yogurt serving may contain anywhere up to 80 IUs depending on how much vitamin D has been added. If you’re looking for a good way to improve your vitamin D intake through your diet, then searching for fortified foods may be a good place to start. Keep in mind that some rice and soy milks are also fortified with a similar amount of vitamin D, but it is important to check the label, as this is not the case with all brands.
Similarly to humans, mushrooms have the ability to produce their own supplies of vitamin D when they are exposed to ultraviolet light. However, in most circumstances, typical mushrooms are grown in the dark, meaning that they do not contain a sufficient amount of the vitamin to act as a dietary supplement. Today, more brands are beginning to grow their mushrooms in ultraviolet light to encourage the production of vitamin D.
Often, the most beneficial mushroom for vitamin D is the Portobello, and you can check the packaging of the mushrooms that you buy to check whether they have been vitamin D fortified. If they have, then you can expect about the following from certain amounts of mushroom.
|Per 100g||Per Cup (86g)||Per Mushroom (84g)|
|446 IU||384 IU||375 IU|
- Canned Tuna
Although fresh fish is a great way to boost your omega 3 and vitamin D intake, it’s also possible to get a healthy dose of vitamin D from the canned variety. Both canned sardines and canned tuna typically contain a significant amount of vitamin D, and can be far less expensive than fresh fish. What’s more, the fact that canned fish typically have a longer shelf life means that they are easier to stock up on, so that you can use them more casually at your leisure.
Canned tuna that is classified as “light” generally has the highest content of vitamin D, measuring in at about 150 IUs for four ounces. On the other hand, canned albacore tuna typically contains about 50 IUs for four ounces, and canned sardines have a little over 40 IUs per two sardines.
- Orange Juice
If you’re not a big fan of dairy and fish, then you may be able to get an extra dose of vitamin D from fortified brands of orange juice. Usually, a single 8 ounce glass of fortified juice should be enough to supply around 100 IUs of your daily vitamin D, but it’s important to note that the amount of vitamin D in any one glass will vary from one brand to the next, and not all brands will be fortified. Check the label to make sure you’re getting a bottle with the highest dose of vitamin D available.
- Fortified Cereals
If you’re looking for a way to introduce more vitamin D into your morning routine, then fortified cereals could be the perfect solution. Simply choose a low-calorie option like multi-grain Cheerios to get part of your daily allowance. A good way to boost the amount of vitamin D you’ll get is to pair your morning cereal with vitamin D fortified milk and a glass of fortified orange juice.
Usually, a one cup serving, or 29 grams of multi-grain fortified cereal finished with half a cup of fortified milk should deliver around 90 IUs. If you include a glass of fortified orange juice into the mix, then you’ll bring your total closer to 200 IUs.
- Egg Yolks
Eggs are another simple and convenient option for getting vitamin D, and they’re often popular in a number of recipes for dinner, lunch, breakfast, and dessert. Since the majority of the vitamin D found in an egg comes from the yolk, it’s important to make sure that you use the complete egg in your meals, not simply the whites. About one yolk should be enough to give you 40 IUs of vitamin D, but you shouldn’t attempt to get all of your vitamin D from eggs alone. One egg contains around 200 mg of cholesterol, and the American Heart Association recommends sticking to a daily allowance of less than 300 milligrams to maintain good heart health.
- Beef Liver
For some people, liver may not be the most appealing source of vitamin D, but a 3.5 ounce serving can be enough to deliver around 50 IUs of vitamin D, alongside a number of other nutrients. At the same time, snacking on this food should supply you with a variety of other benefits, such as iron, vitamin A, and protein. However, beef liver is packed full of cholesterol, so you might want to stick to oily fish instead if you’re looking for a way to get a hefty amount of vitamin D into your diet.
- Cod Liver Oil
Although the name of this substance may not be very attractive, the truth is that if you take cod liver oil in capsule form, you’re not going to taste anything anyway. If you buy it in liquid form, it will typically be flavored with citrus or mint to counteract some of the taste. About one tablespoon is enough to give you 1,300 IUs of vitamin D a day, which equals more than twice the amount of your recommended daily allowance, without exceeding the maximum intake level of 4,000 IUs for people over the age of 8.
Avoiding Vitamin D Deficiency
As you will see above, vitamin D can be obtained from a wide variety of different sources, although sunlight is one of the most common solutions for people who don’t want to think about supplementing their diet with vitamin D rich foods. Unfortunately, as we spend more time than ever indoors using technical devices and working behind computer screens, chances are that most of us aren’t getting the maximum amount of vitamin D that could be beneficial to better health. Scientists suggest that around 41% of American adults today aren’t getting the right levels of vitamin D into their system, which could be increasing their risk of a number of different problems, including diabetes, depression, obesity, osteoporosis, heart disease, and even certain types of cancer.
At the same time, recent studies have found that deficiency in vitamin D could be linked with a faster decline in cognitive functions, such as trouble with recalling past events, or performing mental tasks like problem solving and reasoning in older adults. If you struggle to get the right amount of vitamin D from natural locations like sunlight exposure and dietary choices, then vitamin D supplements could be the ideal solution to help you obtain your correct daily dosage. What’s more, they can be the preferable option to some people, as taking a pill once a day ensures that they do not run the risk of skin cancer as they might with frequent exposure to UV rays.
However, unlike with sunlight, where your body will only absorb as much vitamin D as it needs to function properly, it is possible to get too much vitamin D into your system through supplements. Excessive vitamin D through supplemental pills can be toxic, and lead to a number of significant problems including heart issues and kidney stones. This is one of the reasons why the upper limit for vitamin D is set at around 4,000 IUs for people aged 9 and older, and that amount should include all sources, including sun, food, and supplements.
If you’re unsure about the amount of vitamin D that you need in your diet, or you’re concerned that you may be at risk vitamin D deficiency, speak to your doctor. Some people, such as those with irritable bowel disease, and people who do not get a lot of sun exposure are at higher risk than others, and may find that supplementation is recommended.
Resources and References:
Vitamin D Rich Foods – A list of helpful vitamin D rich foods. (GoodHousekeeping)
NHS Info on Vitamin D – General information about vitamin D, including how much you need. (NHS.uk)
Vitamin D Deficiency – Information and studies about vitamin D deficiency. (Action.org.uk)