The Easiest Ways to Get More Vitamin D in Your Diet

The Easiest Ways to Get More Vitamin D in Your Diet

Vitamin D is hugely important to your health, and I don’t just mean bone health. Humans need vitamin D for immune function, cell growth and repair, and many other things. We get vitamin D from sunlight and from food, so let’s take a look at which foods have the most vitamin D.

You don’t have to get all of your vitamin D from food

Before I discuss food sources, I do want to address the issue of where vitamin D comes from in the first place. The primary sources are sunlight and food (and supplements), so if you get plenty of sun, you don’t need to worry about meeting your needs through food, and vice versa.

How much sun do you need to get enough vitamin D? That depends on your latitude on the Earth and how dark or light your skin is. For a benchmark, consider this study that compared sun exposure in Miami and Boston. In Miami in the summer, it only takes a few minutes for a person with a medium skin tone (the kind that tans easily but is still capable of sunburn) to get their vitamin D for the day. In Boston in the winter, bundled up, that same person might take two hours to get the same amount of vitamin D.

Health professionals generally agree that if you aren’t sure if you’re getting enough vitamin D from food and the sun, to just take a supplement. That’s going to be safer than trying to meet all your needs through sunlight, since the vitamin-converting rays of the sun are the same rays that can potentially contribute to skin cancer.

Getting more vitamin D through food is also an option—so let’s dig in.

How much vitamin D do you need in food each day?

There isn’t a ton of agreement on how much vitamin D we need, but the U.S. National Institutes of Health have decided that 600 IU (international units) is enough for pretty much everyone aged 1 to 70. If you’re older than 70, you should get 800 IU.

The daily value on nutrition labels is based on a target of 800 IU (the recommendation for elderly folks) so most of us can actually get away with just 75% of the daily value, instead of making sure we hit 100%.

Those international units exist because there are different forms of vitamin D found in food, and some have a stronger effect on the body than others. In general, 600 IU is equivalent to 15 micrograms of vitamin D, but using IU means you don’t have to keep track of which type of the vitamin is present in food.

Oh, and the recommendations of 600 or 800 IU assume that you are getting minimal sun exposure—they’re for the bundled-up person in Boston, not the sunbather in Miami.

Easy ways to add vitamin D to your diet

Eat more fatty fish

Fish carry tons of vitamin D in their fat, so fatty fish like trout and salmon tend to be great sources of the vitamin.

If you’ll allow me a small rant: Cod liver oil always tops lists of vitamin D sources, as if people are buying cod liver oil and taking spoonfuls of it like in old cartoons. (Maybe people do. If this is you, you can stop reading now.) I am going to proceed with my list as if cod liver oil did not exist. That said, if you really want to get your vitamin D this way, by all means, buy some one Amazon.

If you’d rather enjoy eating the fish you’re consuming, here’s how much vitamin D is in different types of fish. All of these listings are from the USDA, and indicate the levels in a three-ounce portion of cooked fish.

  • Trout (rainbow, farmed): 645 IU
  • Salmon (sockeye): 570 IU
  • Tuna (light, canned): 229 IU (or 460 IU for a small can)
  • Tilapia: 128 IU
  • Fish sticks: sadly, only 1 IU

Other animal products that are good sources of vitamin D

Several land animals also make enough vitamin D to be worth considering as a good source of vitamin D.

  • Chicken eggs: 37 IU each (the vitamin D is in the yolk)
  • Beef liver: 48 IU in a three-ounce cooked portion

Milk is famously a good source of vitamin D (the carton often says “vitamin D milk”). There is some vitamin D naturally present in the milkfat, so skim milk doesn’t usually have much vitamin D, but whole milk does—and it’s often fortified to bring those levels up even more.

  • Whole milk: 124 IU per cup
  • Heavy cream: 19 IU per ounce

Eat more fortified foods

A food is “fortified” with vitamins if those vitamins have been added to the food. A lot of people don’t drink milk, so several similar beverages are sold with vitamin D added.

  • Fortified plant milks: Check the label, but it’s often similar to whole milk. here’s a Silk brand soy milk with 120 IU per cup.
  • Fortified orange juice: Check the label, but here’s Simply Orange with 200 IU per cup.
  • Fortified cereals: Check the label, but even a sugary cereal like Cinnamon Toast Crunch has 240 IU per serving.

You get the idea. Plant-based foods don’t naturally have much vitamin D, but many common items like these are fortified. Between food, sunlight, and the “I don’t want to think about it” approach of just taking a vitamin D supplement, it shouldn’t be too hard to meet your needs.

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