10 Vitamin D Foods You Should Be Eating

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Vitamin D is one of the most important micronutrients for the human body, yet many of us are deficient in this fat-soluble vitamin. First identified as an essential nutrient in the United States in 1943, vitamin D plays a critical role in bone health, blood sugar control, immunity, endocrine and cardiovascular function, mood, and general well-being. [1]

Vitamin D regulates calcium and phosphorus levels within the bones, decreases the susceptibility or severity of certain autoimmune diseases (e.g. type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis), and may even decrease the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. [2] This vitamin also promotes calcium absorption in the gut, plays critical roles in bone growth and remodeling as well as regulates cell growth, neuromuscular function, and inflammation reduction. [3]

Ensuring adequate vitamin D intake is one of best things you can do to promote overall health.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for healthy males and females between the ages of 18 and 70 years old is 600 IUs or 15micrograms (mcg) and increases to 800 IUs (20 mcg) for people 70+ years old. [3]

Keep in mind these are just the minimum recommendations and many people will need more vitamin D, especially if they receive limited sunlight or are deficient in vitamin D. The tolerable upper intake limit (TUL) in the United States and Canada is 4,000 IUs per day but multiple research studies indicate that healthy individuals can safely consume up to 10,000 IUs per day. [4]

Vitamin D

Those who wish to consume more than the TUL should consult their healthcare professional. Vitamin D-deficient individuals may require 1,500-2,000+ IUs per day to increase serum levels of 25(OH)D.3 Just 10 minutes per day of sun exposure with moderately exposed skin can fulfill the vitamin D RDA but sadly many individuals work inside during daylight hours. [5] As a result many individuals must consume additional vitamin D through food and/or supplementations.

Scientists estimate that over one billion people across the globe, regardless of ethnicity and age, have inadequate levels of vitamin D. [6] The best way to tell if you have a vitamin D deficiency is to obtain the level 25(OH)D in your blood. You should aim for levels between 30 and 125 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) or between 12 and 50 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). [3]

Blood levels lower than these values likely indicate vitamin D deficiency and levels above these values may indicate vitamin D toxicity. Deficiencies may arise due to inadequate dietary vitamin D intake, insufficient sun exposure, the body’s inability to absorb the vitamin, or the body’s increased requirement or excretion. [3]

Conditions arising from vitamin D insufficiency include rickets in children and the softening of bones in adults. While most individuals may not be deficient in vitamin D, their 25(OH)D levels may be suboptimal.

Those at highest risk for deficiency include breastfed infants, adults 50+ years old, people with limited sun exposure (e.g. desk jockeys), people with dark skin, obese individuals (A body mass index ≥30), those who have preciously undergone gastric bypass surgery, and people conditions causing fat malabsorption (e.g. inflammatory bowel disease). [3] At-risk individuals should request a blood test measuring 25(OH)D levels during the next appointment with their health care professional.

This article provides a list and brief write-up of 10 vitamin D-rich food sources. While you may already be eating some of these foods, hopefully this article provides you with a few new foods to incorporate in to your diet.

10 Vitamin D-Rich Foods

#1 – Sockeye Salmon – 1,040 IUs per ½ filet (155g)

Sockeye salmon is a seafood superstar with its high vitamin D and anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acid content. ½ (155g) of a cooked sockeye salmon filet contains 1,040 IUs of vitamin D, 242 calories, 41 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat, and zero carbohydrates. [7]

This fish not only contains an excellent and balanced amino acid profile but also provides 2.2 grams of Omega-3 and just 175mg of Omega-6 fatty acids. Furthermore, its high in niacin, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium as well as a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, magnesium, and potassium. [8]

Sockeye salmon is found in the Northern Pacific Ocean and rivers feeding in to this ocean. You can broil, bake, sear, grill, or even smoke this fish. Be sure to eat the skin for extra vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids (EFAs). Popular spices used on sockeye salmon include garlic, capers, salt, pepper, citrus fruits (e.g. lemon). You may also choose to put finish this vitamin D-packed fish with a sesame ginger or teriyaki sauce.

#2 – Mushrooms Exposed to Ultra Violet (UV) Light – 920IUs per 1 cup sliced (72g)

MushroomsMushrooms are a delicious and nutritious low-calorie vegetable packed with vitamins and minerals. When briefly exposed to UV rays their vitamin D content substantially increases. One cup of raw sliced (72g) Italian or crimini brown mushrooms exposed to UV light contain only 16 calories and 2.5 grams of net carbohydrates but 920 IUs of vitamin D, 2 grams of protein, and 0 grams of fat. [9]

These UV-exposed mushroom varieties are also moderately high in niacin, riboflavin, copper, and selenium. [10] Thankfully the UV light exposure does not impact the taste and merely improves the vitamin D content of this versatile vegetable. Read the packaging carefully to ensure you select UV-exposed mushrooms.

It may be tough to find them at a conventional grocery store but your local specialty grocery store should have them in stock. Use UV-exposed mushrooms just like any other mushroom – slice and mix in your salad, incorporate them in to your marsala sauce, toss them in an olive oil and spice marinade to make a great hors d’oeuvre dish.

#3 – Cod Liver Oil – 1,360 IUs per 1 tablespoon (14g)

Your grandmother was definitely on to something when she told you to consume cod liver oil every day for a healthy and long live. One tablespoon of this fish oil variety contains 1,360 IUs of vitamin d, 123 calories, 13.5 grams of fat, zero carbohydrates and protein. [11]

Cod liver oil is also packed with anti-inflammatory Omega-3s, over 2.6 grams per tablespoon, and fat-soluble vitamin A. [12] While it’s not exactly low in cholesterol (77mg or 26% of the RDA), the benefits of cod liver oil far outweigh the impact of this cholesterol intake on otherwise healthy individuals. Unfortunately, cod liver oil is notorious for its fishy odor and taste.

While some companies attempted to cover up these qualities with citrus flavoring, your best bet is to hold your nose and shoot it back. Alternatively, you can mix it in to your morning smoothie but there’s no guarantee the flavored will be completed masked.

#4 – Maitake Mushrooms – 785 IUs per 1 cup diced (70g)

Unlike the mushrooms discussed earlier in the article, fresh raw maitake mushrooms have a substantial vitamin D content without needing to be exposed to UV light. As one of the most popular culinary mushrooms used in Japanese cooking this vegetable provides 785 IUs of vitamin D, 22 calories, 1.5 grams of protein, less than 0.5 grams of fat, and only 3 grams of net carbohydrates per 1 cup diced (70g). [13]

Maitake mushrooms are also a good source of riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and copper. [14] Other common names for this mushroom varietal are ‘hen of the woods’, ‘cloud mushroom’, ‘dancing mushroom’, and ‘king of mushrooms’. [15]

To prepare maitake mushrooms toss them first with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. You can then grill, sear, or sauté them as part of antioxidant and vitamin D-packed side dish. Alternatively, you can toss them in to your favorite broth-based noodle dish or incorporate them in to a marsala sauce.

Eel

#5 – Eel – 790 IUs per 3 ounces (85g)

Don’t pass up eel rolls next time you see them on the menu at your favorite sushi restaurant. 3 ounces (85g) of raw eel provide 790 IUs of vitamin D, 155 calories, 15.5 grams of protein, 10 grams of fat, and zero carbohydrates. [16] This fish has an excellent amino acid profile, offers a 3:1 ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, and is high in vitamin A, B12, E, niacin, and phosphorus. [17]

While raw fish, let alone raw eel, doesn’t appeal to everyone, you can also grill, boil, or pan fry eel. One popular fried eel recipe involves breading and searing until golden brown, adding white wine until it reduces by half, and then finishing the dish with melted butter. [18] Those on a low or cholesterol-restricted diet may want to skip this vitamin D-plentiful fish as 3 ounces contains 107mg or 36% of the recommended daily allowance. [17]

Healthy individuals should be fine to consume this amount of cholesterol but ensure the eel is drained of blood before serving – the blood is toxic to humans and other mammals unless cooked thoroughly.

#6 – Low-fat Evaporated Milk (with added vitamin A and D) – 405 IUs per 1 cup (252g)

Evaporated milk is an unsweetened and canned dairy beverage containing about 60% less water than traditional cow’s milk and is the first dairy source to make this list of vitamin D-rich foods. Unfortunately, dairy is not a great source of vitamin D unless it’s adding during the processing and bottling process.

One cup (252g) of low-fat evaporate milk with added vitamin A and D contains 405 IUs of vitamin D, 270 calories, 17 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbohydrates, and 17 grams of natural milk sugars. [19]

This canned dairy beverage is also a good source of vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. [20] Evaporated milk may also be used in cheese sauces, ice cream, coffee, soups, chowders, and even oatmeal. You can also reconstitute evaporate milk by adding water which would provide the same volume but a slightly different flavor and texture compared to fresh cow’s milk.

#7 – Light Tuna (Canned in Oil & Drained) – 460 IUs per 1 can (171g)

Canned TunaTuna fish is one of the most popular sources of protein for athletes because it is both affordable and shelf-stable. One can (171g) of light tuna fish canned in oil and drained so that only the solids remain contains 460 IUs of vitamin D, 340 calories, 50 grams of muscle-building protein, 14 grams of fat, and zero carbohydrates.21 One can contains 345mg of Omega-3 fatty acids as well as high amounts of vitamin K, niacin, B12, phosphorus, and selenium. [22]

Those looking to cut calories and fat can choose tuna canned with water rather than oil. Consider choosing fresh over canned tuna if you’re watching your salt intake as one can has 605mg of sodium. [22] Healthy individuals regularly engaging in physical activity and consuming adequate amounts of potassium should have no issues with this sodium.

Light tuna has over 60% less mercury than white or albacore tuna so the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it can be safely consumed once per week. [23] Canned tuna goes great on a salad, as a standalone snack mixed with hot sauce or spices, in casseroles, mixed with mayonnaise and placed on bread.

#8 – Whole Eggs – 130 IUs per 3 large eggs (150g)

While eggs may not seem high in vitamin D compared to the other foods on this list, they are one of the few non-vegetable, non-seafood food options with appreciable amounts of vitamin D. 3 large whole eggs (150g) offer 130 IUs or about 33% of the RDA of vitamin D, 230 calories, 19 grams of protein, 16 grams of fat, and 2 grams of net carbohydrates. [24]

Often considered one of nature’s perfect foods, eggs are a medium-digesting protein source, have an exceptional complete amino acid profile, and are good sources of vitamin A, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. [25] Eggs are also high in brain-boosting and neuroprotective choline. Unfortunately eggs often receive a bad reputation due to their cholesterol content but the correlation between egg intake and cholesterol levels is weak at best.

In fact, many studies show that moderate egg consumption does not increase heart disease risk nor does dietary cholesterol significantly impact total cholesterol in the blood. [26] So go ahead and enjoy those eggs however you prefer – in an omelet, hardboiled, soft-boiled, poached, sunny side-up, fried, over-easy, or any other way you can think-up.

#9 – Swordfish – 565 IUs per 3 ounces (85g)

Swordfish, also known as broadbills, are a deep sea predatory fish packed with vitamin D and commonly caught for sport fishing. 3 ounces of cooked swordfish contain 565 IUs of vitamin D, 145 calories, 20 grams of protein, 7 grams of fat, and zero carbohydrates. [27]

This fish has an incredible 28:1 Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio as well as offers high amounts of niacin, vitamin B6, B12, phosphorus, and selenium. [28] The simplest way to prepare this fish is to place in an olive-based marinade, grill for five to six minutes per side, finish and serve with lemon, salt, and assorted herbs.

Swordfish is relatively thick and robust compared to other fishes so you can also broil, bake, or pan-fry using spices of your choosing for a delicious meal high in protein, Omega-3s, and vitamin D. Be sure to use butter, coconut, or other medium to high heat oil if you decide to cook it in a pan as this low fat fish will quickly burn without an added fat source.

#10 – Plain Soy Yogurt – 120 IUs per 1 container (227g)

Rounding out the list of vitamin D-rich foods is plain yogurt derived from soy rather than cow’s milk. This vegetarian and vegan-friendly non-dairy yogurt offers 120 IUs of vitamin D, 150 calories, 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbohydrates, and 1 gram of fiber per 1 container (227g). [29]

Plain soy yogurt is also high in calcium and vitamin C as a result of adding of these vitamins and minerals during the manufacturing process. [30] When consumed in moderation soy does not significantly impact the estrogen levels of males or females.

Substitute soy yogurt in any recipe calling for cow’s milk yogurt in a 1 to 1 ratio. Soy yogurt is great as a standalone snack, mixed with granola and fresh fruit, as part of your post-workout smoothie, or as an ingredient in baked goods and sauces.

If you still find yourself struggling to consume adequate quantities of this essential vitamin, then consider using a high quality vitamin D supplement sold by a reputable retailer. Choose a vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) rather than a D2 (ergocalciferol) supplement as D3 is more readily absorbed by the body. [4]

Better yet, choose a vitamin D/K2 supplement. K2 also promotes bone health and decreases the risk of vitamin D toxicity due to overconsumption.4 Consuming adequate vitamin D through food, sunlight, and supplementation promotes overall health and longevity.

References

1) “Vitamin D.” The World’s Healthiest Foods. The George Mateljan Foundation, 2016. Web. May 2016.
2) Higdon, Jane, et al. “Vitamin D.” Micronutrient Information Center. Oregon State University Linus Paul Institute, 2015. Web. May 2016.
3) “Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D — Health Professional Fact Sheet.” Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). National Institutes of Health, 11 Feb. 2016. Web. May 2016.
4) Gill, Herman, et al. “Vitamin D – Scientific Review on Usage, Dosage, Side Effects.”Examine.com. N.p., 2016. Web. May 2016.
5) “Vitamin D Background.” Mayo Clinic. The Natural Standard Research Collaboration, 1 Nov. 2013. Web. May 2016.
6) “Vitamin D and Health.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Harvard University, 2016. Web. May 2016.
7) “Basic Report: 15086, Fish, salmon, sockeye, cooked, dry heat.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Oct. 2015. Web. May 2016.
8) “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Fish, salmon, sockeye, cooked, dry heat.” NutritionData.com. Condé Nast, 2014. Web. May 2016.
9) “Basic Report: 11936, Mushrooms, brown, Italian, or crimini, exposed to ultraviolet light, raw.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Oct. 2015. Web. May 2016.
10) “Mushrooms, Raw, Exposed to Ultraviolet Light, or Crimini, Italian, Brown.” Nutritional Values for Common Foods and Products. NutritionValue.org, 2016. Web. May 2016.
11) “Basic Report: 04589, Fish oil, cod liver.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Oct. 2015. Web. May 2016.
12) “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Fish oil, cod liver.” NutritionData.com. Condé Nast, 2014. Web. May 2016.
13) “Basic Report: 11993, Mushrooms, maitake, raw.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Oct. 2015. Web. May 2016.
14) “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Mushrooms, Maitake, Raw.” NutritionData.com. Condé Nast, 2014. Web. May 2016.
15) “Maitake.” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. N.p., 2 Apr. 2015. Web. May 2016.
16) “Basic Report: 15025, Fish, eel, mixed species, raw.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Oct. 2015. Web. May 2016.
17) “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Fish, eel, mixed species, raw.” NutritionData.com. Condé Nast, 2014. Web. May 2016.
18) “Fried Eel Recipe.” Food Network. N.p., 2016. Web. May 2016.
19) “Basic Report: 01291, Milk, evaporated, 2% fat, with added vitamin A and vitamin D.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Oct. 2015. Web. May 2016.
20) “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Milk, canned, evaporated, nonfat.” NutritionData.com. Condé Nast, 2014. Web. May 2016.
21) “Basic Report: 15119, Fish, tuna, light, canned in oil, drained solids.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Oct. 2015. Web. May 2016.
22) “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Fish, tuna, light, canned in oil, drained solids.” NutritionData.com. Condé Nast, 2014. Web. May 2016.
23) “Mercury Alert: Is Canned Tuna Safe to Eat?” Environmental Defense Fund. N.p., 2016. Web. May 2016.
24) “Basic Report: 01129, Egg, whole, cooked, hard-boiled.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Oct. 2015. Web. May 2016.
25) “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Egg, whole, cooked, hard-boiled.” NutritionData.com. Condé Nast, 2014. Web. May 2016.
26) “Eggs and Heart Disease.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Harvard University, 2016. Web. May 2016.
27) “Basic Report: 15111, Fish, swordfish, cooked, dry heat.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Oct. 2015. Web. May 2016.
28) “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Fish, swordfish, cooked, dry heat.” NutritionData.com. Condé Nast, 2014. Web. May 2016.
29) “Basic Report: 16252, SILK Plain soy yogurt.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, Oct. 2015. Web. May 2016.
30) “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for SILK Plain soy yogurt.” NutritionData.com. Condé Nast, 2014. Web. May 2016.

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Name: Nick Ludlow

Bio: When it comes to fitness I enjoy reading about historic weight lifters, non-conventional weightlifting approaches, nutritional protocols, and the science behind supplements.