Vitamin D – aka “the sunshine vitamin -” is important to our overall health and feelings of wellness. Most people connect vitamin D and sunshine because research has taught us that it is naturally produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin in a family of compounds that includes vitamins D-1, D-2, and D-3. It can affect as many as 2,000 genes in the body.
Vitamin D has several important functions. Perhaps the most vital are regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, and facilitating normal immune system function. Getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D is important for normal growth and development of bones and teeth, as well as improved resistance against certain diseases.
The National Institutes of Health, along with Health and Human Services, has determined the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 600 IUs (15 mcg) for individuals between the ages of 13 and 70. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set the recommended amount at 400 IUs which is slightly lower than other recommendations but still much higher than most people consume daily.
Vitamin D deficiency is a global epidemic. An estimated 1 billion people do not have adequate vitamin D levels. And 64% of Americans do not get the sufficient amount of vitamin D to keep all of their tissues operating optimally.
Eating foods high in vitamin D is key in maintaining proper levels
Eating foods high in vitamin D is even more critical today than it was years ago. Our modern, indoor lifestyle limits the amount of vitamin D we receive. Even those who do spend lots of time outside still have insufficient levels of this important nutrient due to necessity of having to wear sunblock. Sunscreens do more than just block harmful UV rays it also limits the amount of vitamin that is absorbed by the skin. Because few foods have high amounts of this vitamin – and our limited exposure to the sun – it is critical to maintain a diet that is purposefully chock full of vitamin D rich foods.
10 Foods High in Vitamin D
1. Cod Liver Oil
This is the holy grail of vitamin D. One tablespoon contains 1,360 IUs, which is more than twice the RDA. Cod liver oil is also a great anti-inflammatory agent and has properties that promote cardiovascular, hormonal, immune, reproductive and neurological health.
2. Portabello Mushrooms
Portabello mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet light contain about 375 IUs per serving. When grilled, that number jumps to 493 IUs per serving. Mushrooms are a great substitute for meat and are an excellent complement to many dishes.
3. Oily Fish
Fatty fish, like tuna, trout, mackerel, and salmon, are rich in vitamin D. This group’s vitamin D content ranges from 760 IUs down to 100 IUs per serving. The oily fish ranking the highest are swordfish, salmon, trout and then mackerel. Besides being a vitamin D-rich food, fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids provide a plethora of health benefits – both physical and mental – and are considered a “superfood” among many nutrition experts.
4. Fish Roe (Caviar)
Besides being fortified with vitamin D (484 IUs per serving), caviar is a source of vitamins and minerals, including omega 3, which helps to promote a healthy nervous, circulatory and immune system. One serving of this expensive delicacy also has an adult’s daily requirement of vitamin B12. Other nutrients included are vitamins A, E, B6, iron, magnesium and selenium.
5. Orange Juice (fortified)
Orange fortified with vitamin D contains 137 IUs per eight ounce cup. Fortified orange juice also comes packed with calcium and is an excellent source of vitamin C. And with OJ, a little goes a long way.
6. Fortified Breakfast Cereal
Instant oatmeal rates the highest in this category when it comes to vitamin D content. Most brands come in around 342 IUs per serving. Traditional dry cereals are also great sources for packing in a large variety of vitamins and minerals in a single serving. When the cereal is combined with milk, the vitamin D content is further enhanced.
7. Dairy Products
Naturally, milk and other dairy products do not contain high amounts of vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential in the process the body undergoes to absorb calcium. It is for this reason, foods that naturally contain calcium, have been fortified with vitamin D. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt and margarine all have vitamin D added to enhance the potency of calcium.
8. Beef Liver
Beef liver is not only a pretty good source of vitamin D, but since it is a storage organ for many important nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid), and minerals such as copper and iron, it naturally transfers those vitamins to us when we consume it. Liver is an “organ meat,” and generally speaking, organ meats are between 10 and 100 times higher in nutrients than corresponding muscle meats.
Eggs are a convenient way to get vitamin D. They’re popular in many breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert recipes. Vitamin D is contained in the yolk of an egg. One large egg contains around 44 IUs of the sunshine vitamin.
10. Dairy Alternatives
For those who are lactose intolerant or have sensitivities to dairy, getting the daily dose of vitamin D may prove to be a bit tricky. Thankfully, dairy alternatives such as soy and almond milk, dairy-free cheese, yogurt and many others have been fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
Maximizing the vitamin D in your food
How we prepare and consume food vastly effects its nutritional benefits and can either heighten or completely nullify certain nutrients. When it comes to preparing foods to preserve their vitamin D content, its important to keep a few things in mind:
- Vitamin D is a very stable nutrient in foods. It will not be significantly damaged by most low-heat cooking techniques.
- Foods cooked in oil will lose some of their vitamin D content. Eggs, for example, when fried lose about 20% of their vitamin D, compared to only a 10% loss during the poaching process.
- The best way to preserve any food’s vitamin D content, based on information from various studies, is to avoid cooking food at higher heats and lengthy baking times.
Vitamin D is vitally important for proper functioning of our bodies and aids in preserving our mental health. A conscious effort must be made daily to ensure your diet includes the appropriate amount of the sunshine vitamin.