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Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that most people, including vegans, don’t get enough of.
So here’s everything you need to know about vegan vitamin D, its benefits, and how to make sure you’re getting enough — along with our favorite vegan vitamin D supplements.
AND we promise not to make too many D jokes. Er, we’ll try not to, anyway…
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your body needs mostly to help you absorb calcium and keep those bones healthy. It’s got some other pretty cool benefits too.
Most people don’t get enough through their diet. Luckily, your body can also make vitamin D on its own through your skin if you get enough sun exposure. (Yeah, it’s kinda like magic.)
BUUUT certain groups of people may still need supplementation because they’re at an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency (characterized by low blood vitamin D levels).
Groups with an increased risk include people who have darker skin tones, people who get limited sun exposure, people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater, older adults, and breastfed infants.
Here are some of the aforementioned “pretty cool benefits” of vitamin D:
- Bone health. Vitamin D makes it easier for your body to absorb calcium. The two go together like peanut butter and jelly. While this may not sound like a huge deal, getting enough vitamin D keeps your body from sneaking calcium out of your bones to keep your blood calcium level up, which will keep your bones stronger and thicker.
- Immune function. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to a weaker immune system and an increased risk of developing autoimmune disorders, in which the immune system attacks your body’s healthy cells. So not chill. Reversing the deficiency may help optimize your immune health.
- Mood. Vitamin D may also play a role in managing anxiety and mood disorders. People with these disorders tend to have low vitamin D levels, and supplementing with vitamin D has shown some promise for improving mood and anxiety.
As you can see, vitamin D is way important. But if you want that big D energy, you gotta make sure you’re getting enough.
Most adults need 15 micrograms, or about 600 international units (IU), of vitamin D daily.
Although taking super high doses of vitamin D is kind of a trend right now, you really don’t need higher doses unless your blood levels of vitamin D are low. Your doctor can check your blood levels to make sure they’re where they need to be.
Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, it can build up in your fat cells if you take high doses over a long period of time.
This can lead to an overdose, which increases your blood calcium level and can potentially cause muscle problems, kidney stones, cognitive changes, and lots of other unpleasant things.
To be safe, adults shouldn’t take more than 4,000 IU per day. If the D is toxic, it’s time to drop it!
As a vegan, you can get vitamin D three ways: from food, sunshine, and/or supplements. Here’s some need-to-know info about each.
Most food sources of vitamin D are animal-based. The only vegan food that naturally contains a decent bit of vitamin D is mushrooms. And if you can find mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet light (which supercharges their vitamin D content), then you’re set.
The only other significant vegan food sources are those that are fortified with vitamin D, which means vitamin D is added during processing. Several vegan foods may be vitamin D-fortified, including:
- plant-based milks like soy or almond milk
- orange juice
Just check the label before buying to ensure that they’re fortified.
Also, fat-soluble vitamins are a little easier to absorb if you eat them with a source of fat, so make sure to pair your vitamin D foods with a healthy fat source like olive oil, avocado, nuts, or seeds.
“Sunny D” is the name of a popular orange drink for kids, but it could totally be vitamin D’s unofficial nickname too. Soaking in some sun rays is one of the best ways to get some vitamin D.
Sunlight kicks off a series of biological reactions that synthesize an inactive form of the vitamin and convert it into the active form, fondly referred to as 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol — or vitamin D3, for short.
If you have pale skin, then spending 30 minutes in the sun a few days a week will be enough. The darker your skin is, though, the more sunbathing you’ll need to do to synthesize adequate levels of D3.
Either way, make sure to sunscreen up!
Most vitamin D that’s used to make supplements is isolated from lanolin (the fat from lambs’ wool), which is definitely not vegan. This means that, as a vegan, you’ll need to be extremely picky about the supplement you choose.
You should choose only vitamin D supplements that are clearly and prominently labeled vegan or that have been certified to contain only vegan ingredients by a certification company (like Certified Vegan).
Additionally, you should choose a vitamin D3 supplement, not a vitamin D2 supplement. Vitamin D3 is the active form of the vitamin. Choosing this form saves your body the extra step of converting the supplemented D2 and may be more effective at increasing blood vitamin D levels.
Need more vegan D in your life? Here are our top picks.
This raspberry-lemon-flavored chewable (YUM) provides 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 from lichen (a type of fungus), along with an organic food and mushroom blend to give you some extra goodness. It’s also non-GMO, gluten-free, and 100 percent organic.
This vegan D3 is made with Vitashine D3, which is sustainably harvested and registered with the prestigious UK Vegan Society. The plant-based supplements are lichen-based.
This lichen-based vitamin D3 supplement contains only two ingredients: vitamin D3 and a veggie capsule. We’re all about it! It provides 2,500 IU of D3 per serving and is free of GMOs, soy, and gluten.
- Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be tricky to get enough of on a vegan diet.
- It promotes bone health and can help optimize your immune function and mood.
- Most people need about 600 IU daily, but you might need more if your blood levels are low.
- Vegans can get some D from mushrooms, vitamin D-fortified foods, sunshine, or supplements.
- For supplements, your best bet is lichen-based D3. Make sure not to take more than 4,000 IU per day unless your doc tells you otherwise.