Vitamin D, also called the sunshine vitamin, is perhaps one of the most important vitamins in the human body due to its receptor presence in nearly every cell. But despite being found in many foods, the most powerful source of vitamin D is actually from the sun.
But what’s strange is that millions of people are deficient in the vitamin despite how easy it is to get! That’s because we’re spending more time indoors, protecting our skin with sunblock, and eating diets high in processed nutrient-void foods, none of which boost your vitamin D levels.
If you aren’t the lucky one who has access to sun year-round, loading up on vitamin D-rich foods can help keep your levels up to snuff, even when the sun doesn’t shine.
The Complications Of Low Vitamin D
Before we get into the best food sources of vitamin D, we want you to understand what happens when you don’t get enough, so you can understand why it’s important to consume the foods on our list.
Because of vitamin D’s role in bone health, weak bones and fractures are among the most prominent complications of low vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential for the uptake of calcium from the gut, and when vitamin D levels are insufficient, the body triggers a hormone that releases calcium from bone to maintain serum calcium levels.
As a result, calcium is leached, and bones become weak and fragile, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures 1.
But low vitamin D levels can also 2-7:
- Contribute to mood swings and symptoms of depression
- Increase risk of illness and infection
- Cause fatigue
- Increase bone pain
- Cause muscle pain or cramping
- Impair wound healing
If you want to avoid any of these nasty side effects, bump up your intake of foods containing vitamin D.
Where To Find Vitamin D: The 10 Best Food Sources
When you have limited dietary restrictions, finding food sources of vitamin D is no problem. But on a plant-based diet, foods high in vitamin D can be hard to find, which makes supplementation the safer route. For the average person, you’re looking at anywhere from 1,000IU to 4,000IU to maintain serum levels.
But if you choose to consume animal products, here are the top 10 foods with high vitamin D levels 8.
- Cod liver oil, 1 tbsp—1360IU
- Mackerel, 3oz. (85g)—547IU
- Trout, 3oz. (85g) – 540IU
- Salmon, 3oz.(85g)—383IU
- Halibut, 3oz. (85g)—162IU
- Sardines, 3oz. (85g)—161IU
- Herring, 3oz. (85g)—142IU
- Tuna, 3oz. (85g)—69IU
- Beef liver, 3oz. (85g)—55IU
- Egg, large—41IU
If you’re a plant-eater, there’s only one food that naturally contains vitamin D—mushrooms. They can synthesize vitamin D2 when exposed to UV light, however, D2 may not be as effective as D3 at boosting serum levels.
Because of the lack of vegan and vegetarian foods containing vitamin D, many of them are fortified to prevent deficiencies.
Vitamin D is widely distributed in many animal products, especially fish and seafood, but the thing with food sources is that unless you’re loading up on them all day, every day, you’re likely not meeting the daily requirements.
That’s where having a good multi containing vitamin D, or a pure vitamin D supplement comes in handy. You can consume all the vitamin D-rich foods (because they’re delicious and rich in so many other nutrients, too) and have your multivitamin to keep levels within a normal range. That sounds like a win-win to us!
- MF Vitamin D and bone health. J Nutr. 1996;126(4 Suppl):1159S-64S.
- DW Eyles, S Smith, R Kinobe, M Hewison, JJ McGrath. Distribution of the vitamin D receptor and 1 alpha-hydroxylase in human brain.J Chem Neuroanat. 2005;29(1):21-30.
- M Hewison. Vitamin D and Innate and Adaptive Immunity. Vitamins & Hormones. 2011; 86:23-62.
- K Johnson, M Sattari. Vitamin D deficiency and fatigue: an unusual presentation. Springerplus. 2015;4:584.
- B Heidari, JS Shirvani, A Firouzjahi, P Heidari, KO Hajian-Tilaki. Association between nonspecific skeletal pain and vitamin D deficiency. Int J Rheum Dis. 2010;13(4):340-346.
- KV Knutsen, M Brekke, S Gjelstad, P Lagerløv. Vitamin D status in patients with musculoskeletal pain, fatigue and headache: a cross-sectional descriptive study in a multi-ethnic general practice in Norway.Scand J Prim Health Care. 2010;28(3):166-171.
- J Ding, P Kwan, Z Ma, et al. Synergistic effect of vitamin D and low concentration of transforming growth factor beta 1, a potential role in dermal wound healing.Burns. 2016;42(6):1277-1286.