Vitamin D is one of the hottest topics in the wellness world, and for good reason. You need it to keep your bones healthy, manage inflammation, and so much more. Make no mistake, vitamin D is a big deal.
On those perfect summer days, your body can naturally metabolize vitamin D when your skin’s exposed to the sun. But if the winter blues start to set in, fear not — you can also get vitamin D through your diet and supplements.
Here’s how to determine whether boosting your vitamin D intake would be right for you, along with a list of yummy vitamin D-rich foods and thoughts on when it’s time to add a supplement.
Not many foods naturally have a lot of vitamin D. This may be one of the reasons so many folks experience vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency.
But don’t worry! There are a few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. Some foods are even fortified with vitamin D during manufacturing. Since you can’t eat the sun, here are some of the foods packed with vitamin D.
Seafood is by far the richest dietary source of vitamin D. If you’re a fish lover, then check out these top sources of vitamin D:
- Cooked rainbow trout: 645 International Units (IU) per 3-ounce (oz.) serving
- Cooked wild coho salmon: 383 IU per 3-oz. serving
- Cooked halibut: 196 IU per 3-oz. serving
- Cooked Atlantic herring: 182 IU per 3-oz. serving
Of course, many pregnant people want to be careful when eating seafood. If you’re pregnant, always check with a trusted healthcare professional before you order your salmon roe sushi.
2. Some egg yolks
Eggs can be an eggs-cellent source of vitamin D. But before you go banging on barnyard doors, you should know that eggs’ vitamin D content depends on the type of eggs you’re eating.
Research suggests that hens who are raised on pasture with plenty of exposure to sun lay eggs with significantly higher vitamin D levels than hens kept indoors.
Some research has also found that organic eggs have higher vitamin D levels than conventional eggs.
Additionally, eggs from hens fed vitamin D-enriched feed are much higher in vitamin D than eggs from hens who aren’t supplemented with vitamin D.
Here’s an idea of how much vitamin D you can get from eggs (but keep in mind that you have to eat the yolks to get it):
3. Organ meats
Most meat products don’t contain much vitamin D. The exception is liver, which is a good source of this nutrient. If you’re looking to keep your seasonal depression at bay, paté away!
4. Fortified foods
Some foods have vitamin D added to them during processing. These are considered fortified foods.
Keep in mind that many of these foods are fortified with vitamin D2, which is less effective at increasing vitamin D levels in the body than vitamin D3.
Here are a few examples of the vitamin D content in fortified products:
- Vitamin D-fortified dairy milk: 111 IU per cup
- Vitamin D-fortified nondairy milks: 100 to 144 IU per cup
- Vitamin D-fortified cereals: 80 IU per serving
5. Some mushrooms
Some mushrooms contain a good amount of vitamin D, but commercially grown mushrooms contain very small amounts of vitamin D because they’re usually grown in the dark.
Mushrooms must be exposed to sunlight or UV light in order to contain significant amounts of vitamin D.
Mushrooms contain mostly vitamin D2 and have lesser amounts of D3. While mushrooms may not be the obvious choice for boosting your vitamin D levels, some wild mushrooms offer a tasty vegan alternative to fishier vitamin D-rich foods.
Your vitamin D needs depend on factors like your age and whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), adults ages 18 to 70 should get 600 IU of vitamin D per day and adults over 70 should shoot for 800 IU per day.
However, many scientists suggest that the daily requirements for vitamin D are too low for some people to maintain optimal vitamin D status, which most experts agree lies between 40 and 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL).
When you need to take it up a notch
If you have a baby on board, getting your vitamin D is even more essential. So eat up! Pregnant and breastfeeding people need much more vitamin D than the current 600 IU per day recommendation in order to maintain healthy vitamin D levels.
In fact, some experts suggest that, to reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy, pregnant folks should take a vitamin D supplement containing around 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
If you’re breastfeeding, your vitamin D needs are even higher. Research suggests that a daily dose of 6,400 IU of vitamin D promotes optimal blood levels in breastfeeding people and their babies.
You may also need more vitamin D per day if you have a high amount of body fat, if you have a medical condition that impacts fat absorption, if you have a darker skin tone, if you don’t spend much time outside, or if you’re an older adult.
The less sunlight you get, the higher your daily needs for vitamin D will be. And you’ll need more vitamin D if you’re pregnant and especially if you’re breastfeeding. Be sure to chow down on the right vitamin D-rich foods — there aren’t many, so make a note of these next time you’re at the grocery store!
Vitamin D insufficiency and vitamin D deficiency are super common. As many as 1 billion people worldwide are considered deficient in vitamin D, which generally means they have serum vitamin D levels less than 20 ng/mL.
Vitamin D insufficiency, which occurs when levels fall between 21 and 29 ng/mL, impacts around half the world’s population.
Although most people don’t realize they’re low in vitamin D, a severe deficiency can come with some symptoms, including:
- bone pain
- joint stiffness
- muscle pain
- muscle twitching
Even mild deficiency or insufficiency can negatively impact bone health, immune function, mental health, and more, so it’s important to have your healthcare provider monitor your levels.
Children with vitamin D deficiency may show symptoms like irritability, low energy, weakness, and developmental delays.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency often emerge in unsuspected ways. If you have symptoms that suggest a vitamin D deficiency, your doctor can help you bring it to light and get you feeling like yourself again!
How is vitamin D deficiency treated?
Your doctor can test to see whether you’re experiencing vitamin D deficiency.
If you’re super low in vitamin D, your doc may prescribe high-dose weekly supplementation of 50,000 IU for 8 weeks, followed by a maintenance dose of 2,000 IU per day after your levels reach 30 ng/mL.
Populations at higher risk for deficiency, such as people with obesity or those with darker skin tones, may need much higher maintenance doses of up to 6,000 IU after initial treatment for vitamin D deficiency.
If your vitamin D levels are considered insufficient, a healthcare pro can recommend a tailored dose to increase your intake steadily. But if you’re not experiencing a deficiency and just want to optimize your intake, try to spend more time in the sun and add nutritious vitamin D-rich foods to your diet.
Vitamin D toxicity is rare and usually happens only in people who have been taking very high doses of vitamin D over long periods.
For example, a 2020 case report noted that a 73-year-old man developed vitamin D toxicity after taking 10,000 IU of vitamin D per day for several years.
If you’re interested in taking vitamin D supplements, it’s important to get your blood levels tested. That’s the only way to know how much vitamin D you actually need to take.
While toxicity is unlikely if you’re staying below 10,000 IU per day, the NIH recommends that people who have normal vitamin D levels keep their intake below 4,000 IU of vitamin D per day.
Your body makes vitamin D naturally when exposed to sunlight, and you can also get it through certain foods. But vitamin D deficiency is super common.
Many factors, such as your diet, sunlight exposure, skin tone, medical conditions, body weight, and age, can impact your vitamin D levels.
Since most people don’t get enough vitamin D, taking a supplement may be a good idea, especially if you’re considered “at risk” for developing vitamin D deficiency.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, a vitamin D supplement is recommended. As mentioned above, many experts agree that the current vitamin D recommendations for pregnant and breastfeeding people are too low. Talk with a healthcare professional about how much vitamin D you should be taking.
Do you need to take a supplement?
The only way to tell whether you truly need a vitamin D supplement is to get a blood test. Depending on your vitamin D levels, a healthcare professional will recommend an appropriate dose and treatment plan.
Don’t try to self-diagnose a vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency. Instead, ask a healthcare pro to check your levels so you can make sure you’re taking the right dose.
Vitamin D does so much for your body, which is why it’s critical to keep your intake high and consistent. Don’t skimp on the (vitamin) D!
Unfortunately, not many foods contain vitamin D, and deficiency is super common. So when the sun gets dim, a diet that felt easy-peasy can turn into a winter challenge requiring tweaks in your diet.
If you’re curious about your vitamin D levels, ask a healthcare professional about having them checked. If you’re low in vitamin D, you may need to add a supplement to boost your levels.