Do you have enough Vitamin D in your diet? This essential vitamin plays a critical role in the development of healthy cells, bolstering the immune system to fend off illnesses, and facilitating the absorption of calcium to maintain strong bones. It also plays a role in preventing rickets, a bone disease in children, and, in conjunction with calcium, offers protection against osteoporosis in older adults, as noted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Vitamin D is naturally synthesized in your body when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 600 international units (IU), equivalent to 15 micrograms (mcg) for most adults, according to the NIH. For individuals over the age of 80, the RDA increases to 800 IU (20 mcg).
However, many individuals do not obtain sufficient vitamin D through sunlight exposure, and food sources are also limited, explains Lori Zanini, RD, a dietitian based in Los Angeles.
Most people typically don’t exceed 288 IU per day from their diet alone. Even fortified milk, a common source of vitamin D, contains just 100 IU in an 8-ounce serving, which is only one-sixth of the daily requirement. It’s no surprise that approximately 41.6 percent of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency, as indicated by a study. A deficiency is defined as having 20 nanograms or less of the nutrient per milliliter of blood. Certain factors, such as being nonwhite, obese, or having lower educational attainment, may increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency. A blood test from your healthcare provider can determine your vitamin D status.
To address this deficiency, supplements are an option. Zanini recommends vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is found in animal-derived foods and is generally better absorbed by the body. Plant-based vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is also used in supplements. However, research results on the concrete health benefits of vitamin D supplements are mixed. While a study published in January 2019 in The New England Journal of Medicine suggested a reduced cancer risk for African Americans taking vitamin D supplements, along with a significantly lower mortality rate in cancer patients who used them, more recent mainstream studies, including an October 2018 review in The Lancet, have not demonstrated significant benefits from supplementation, despite earlier excitement about its potential.
Zanini emphasizes the importance of obtaining vitamin D from dietary sources. Ensure that your diet includes the following foods to increase your vitamin D intake.
1. Eat Swordfish — but in Moderation
Swordfish is another personal favorite of Zanini’s. A three-ounce serving of cooked swordfish provides a substantial 566 IU of vitamin D, nearly meeting your daily recommended intake, as suggested by the NIH. Zanini adds, ‘The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming at least two servings of fish each week, and swordfish is not only versatile but also delicious.’ However, the AHA advises children and pregnant women to steer clear of large fish like swordfish due to their higher mercury content compared to smaller, shorter-lived species. Nevertheless, the organization believes that the health benefits, particularly for older adults, outweigh the risks.
One delightful way to enjoy swordfish is by incorporating it into kebabs, featuring a medley of onions, green bell peppers, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes.
2. Eat Mushrooms for a Versatile Vitamin D Punch
While mushrooms themselves do not naturally provide a significant amount of vitamin D, certain mushrooms undergo a UV light treatment process that significantly increases their vitamin D content. The precise vitamin D levels can vary depending on the intensity and duration of UV light exposure, as explained by the Agricultural Research Service. These specially treated mushrooms can contain anywhere from 124 to 1,022 IU per 100 grams (g).
Producers like Monterey Mushrooms cultivate varieties of mushrooms that are intentionally enriched with vitamin D, but it’s essential to check the product labels to ensure you’re getting the right kind. Once you have these vitamin D-enriched mushrooms, you can enhance your meals by adding sautéed mushrooms to dishes featuring eggs or fish for an even higher vitamin D content. Alternatively, you can create a substantial mushroom-centered dish, such as stuffed portobello mushrooms packed with a variety of vegetables.
3. Sockeye Salmon Is a Source of Protein
Salmon is not only an excellent choice to boost your protein intake but also a rich source of the Sunshine Vitamin. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that a 3-ounce serving of cooked sockeye salmon provides approximately 447 IU of vitamin D. According to Zanini, salmon offers more than just vitamin D—it’s a valuable addition to anyone’s diet due to its quality protein content and omega-3 fatty acids. The NIH notes that fish supply two essential omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, both of which must be obtained from your diet. Omega-3s play a crucial role in maintaining the health of your immune, pulmonary, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems.
4. Fortified Milk Offers a Double Whammy: Vitamin D and Calcium
Besides being a rich source of calcium, 8 fluid ounces (fl oz) of milk contains approximately 115 to 124 IU of vitamin D, as indicated by the NIH. It’s essential to read the label on your preferred brand for precise information. Fortified plant-based milks, like soy and almond, can also offer comparable levels of vitamin D.
Savor an 8 oz glass of chilled fortified milk, incorporate it into a refreshing smoothie, or use it to craft your favorite coffee beverage.
5. Canned Tuna Packs More Than 25 Percent of Your Daily Goal
Per the NIH, a 3 oz serving of canned tuna in water provides 154 IU of vitamin D. This affordable pantry essential is ideal for quick and straightforward meals, such as the classic tuna sandwich or a tuna salad.
You can add a nutritious touch to this deli favorite with a recipe like artichoke and ripe-olive tuna salad. Alternatively, incorporate it into your dinner repertoire with a comforting and healthy dish like tuna casserole with rigatoni. ‘Tuna is readily available and budget-friendly, making it an excellent choice for everyone,’ notes Zanini.
6. Eggs Contain Protein and Immunity-Boosting Benefits
Egg yolks have often been criticized for their potential to raise LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels, as per Harvard Health Publishing. However, opting for egg whites alone means sacrificing some of the protein and a variety of essential minerals found in yolks, including zinc and selenium, both of which contribute to bolstering your immune system. You’ll also miss out on vitamin D, as a single egg yolk contains 41 IU, equating to 10 percent of your daily recommended intake, according to the NIH. It’s advisable to consume them in moderate quantities.
7. Cereal Can Be Fortified With Vitamin D, and Oatmeal Offers Fiber
A packet of unsweetened, vitamin D-fortified oatmeal can be a significant source of this nutrient in your diet. Ready-to-eat fortified cereals usually provide around 40 IU of vitamin D per serving, as per the NIH, though some heavily fortified options like Raisin Bran can offer even more, such as 60.2 IU per cup, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
These fortified cereals serve as a nutritious foundation for a high-fiber meal, especially when paired with fortified low-fat or fat-free milk, which adds an extra 60 IU per half cup. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even create a breakfast cookie using both fortified cereal and vitamin D–fortified margarine.
8. Fortified Yogurt Makes for a Gut-Healthy Snack
Yogurt is a convenient and delicious snack that can also be a healthy choice when enjoyed plain or with fresh fruit. This dairy product is rich in gut-friendly probiotics, and opting for a fortified variety can contribute to between 10 and 20 percent of your daily vitamin D requirement, depending on the brand. Keep in mind that many flavored yogurts are loaded with added sugars, so it’s essential to read the nutrition label to make informed choices. The American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily intake of 9 teaspoons (tsp) or 26 grams (g) of added sugar for men and 6 tsp or 25 g of added sugar for women.
You can also incorporate plain yogurt into your meals to enhance your vitamin D intake. For example, try Middle Eastern–style chopped vegetable salad, which combines greens, herbs, grains, and a cup of plain yogurt to create a refreshing and vitamin D-rich entrée, offering a cooler alternative to hot dishes.