The 10 Best Foods for Vitamin D to Boost Your Diet

Need to boost your levels of the ever-important sunshine vitamin? Below, Gaby Vaca-Flores, RDN, lists the 10 best foods for vitamin D. Vitamin D—aka the sunshine vitamin—is incredibly important for many aspects of human health. However, since vitamin D deficiency is very common, we should look for ways to boost our levels. Keep reading to learn more about vitamin D, including how much you need and the top 10 vitamin D foods and drinks.

Why Vitamin D Is Important

Most notably, vitamin D plays a powerful role in the development and functioning of our bones by regulating calcium absorption. Further, it helps with several other body functions and processes including but not limited to: Unfortunately, many of us struggle to get enough vitamin D. In fact, researchers estimate that over 40 percent of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency, which can be caused by:
  1. a lack of sunlight exposure
  2. an unbalanced diet
If you’re deficient in vitamin D, sunshine may not be the safest (or most efficient) way to go about raising your levels. As we know, you should never sustain prolonged sun exposure without sunblock. That said, as important as sun protection is, SPF can actually repel vitamin D-producing UV rays. For this reason, I recommend that you consult the vitamin D foods list below to up your levels through nutrition. But first: how much vitamin D do you really need? Woman's face half in the sun, half in shadow, to illustrate the importance of vitamin D aka the sunshine vitamin

How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?

The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) recommends a daily intake of 400 to 800 IUs of vitamin D to maintain bone health and normal calcium metabolism. However, this value can vary depending on your:
  • health status
  • age
  • gender
  • geographic location
International Units, aka IUs, are widely used to measure fat-soluble vitamins based on their potency. But counting IUs may not be user-friendly to most, especially when reading food labels while shopping for D3-rich foods. As a solution, the FDA created % Daily Values (% DV) for consumers to better understand the nutrient content for a serving of food in the context of their overall diet.

The 10 Best Foods for Vitamin D

Now, for the main attraction: What foods have high vitamin D content? The following vitamin D foods list includes the top 10 dietary staples that pack the sunshine vitamin to boost your overall health. Note: The following serving sizes, % Daily Values, and International Units (IU) are all pulled from the National Institutes of Health.

1. Cod liver oil

  • Serving size: 1 tbsp
  • % Daily Value: 340
  • IUs per serving: 1,360
This fish oil supplement is the easiest, quickest way to add more vitamin D into your daily diet. Consuming good food sources of vitamin D—such as cod liver oil—is crucial in helping your body absorb the calcium it needs to support healthy bone development and maintenance. In combination with other calcium-rich foods, cod liver oil can help offset age-related bone loss. As an added bonus (and similar to other fish oils), cod liver oil boasts high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A.

2. Swordfish

  • Serving size: 3 oz
  • % Daily Value: 142
  • IUs per serving: 566
The impressive nutrient profile of swordfish is underrated and shouldn’t be overlooked. In addition to providing more than the recommended daily value for vitamin D, swordfish contains healthful micronutrients such as potassium and selenium. However, this meaty fish makes for a great occasional meal (rather than a weekly dish) on account of its high mercury levels. Man eating salmon, a D3 rich food

3. Salmon

  • Serving size: 3 oz
  • % Daily Value: 112
  • IUs per serving: 447
The World Health Organization recommends eating one or two servings of fish per week, and it’s no secret that salmon is a great option. After all, salmon is a superfood leader for both brain and heart health. In addition, not only is salmon one of the best foods for vitamin D, but it also provides ample amounts of: Impressively, all of these nutrients support cognitive and neurological health.

4. Tuna

  • Serving size: 3 oz
  • % Daily Value: 39
  • IUs per serving: 154
Eating tuna (canned in water and drained) is a great, portable, high-protein snack option. And, like most fish, tuna provides additional perks in addition to its status as a food high in vitamin D. When eaten regularly, tuna can support:
  • healthy blood pressure
  • immune health
  • vision
  • strong bones
PSA: If you’re plant-based or simply don’t love fish, rest assured that not all of the best foods for vitamin D come from the sea. The next options on this list are for you!

5. Orange Juice

  • Serving size: 1 cup
  • % Daily Value: 34
  • IUs per serving: 137
Orange juice naturally provides key nutrients including:
  • folate
  • vitamin C
  • potassium
So what’s the deal with fortified juice? It’s often enriched with vitamin D and calcium to help maximize nutrient absorption. However, there’s significant debate on whether or not juice is healthy. However, when consumed in moderation, fortified juice can provide a simple, refreshing way to start your day with vitamin D. Woman drinking fortified milk to have more foods high in vitamin D

6. Milk + Yogurt

  • Serving size: 1 cup
  • % Daily Value: 29-31
  • IUs per serving: 115-124
Fortified milk is the poster child for healthy bones, as it contains added vitamin D. Additionally, plant-based milk options are often fortified with vitamin D to mirror the amount found in fortified cow’s milk. Not a fan of milk in general? Then substitute yogurt on your vitamin D foods list and buy that instead. With six ounces of fortified yogurt providing 20 percent of the recommended daily value, it makes for another good vitamin D food source.

7. Margarine

  • Serving size: 1 tbsp
  • % Daily Value: 15
  • IUs per serving: 60
Looking for an effortless way to up your vitamin D intake? Cook with margarine—but sparingly. Margarine is a butter dupe processed from vegetable oils that functions as a heart-healthy alternative to butter. Cooking your favorite veggie stir-fry with a tablespoon of margarine can help fill any vitamin D deficiencies in your diet. However, it’s crucial to note that some margarine brands have high contents of unhealthy trans fats. For that reason, I don’t recommend eating more than a single tablespoon per day. (Tip: Look for “0 grams of trans fat” on the label.)

8. Eggs

  • Serving size: 1 large egg
  • % Daily Value: 10
  • IUs per serving: 41
Although one egg provides a modest 10 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin D, it’s no secret that this food has a seriously impressive nutrient profile. Even better, it’s a staple in many standard diets. One large egg offers:
  • vitamin A
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
  • vitamin B12
  • folate
  • selenium
  • phosphorus
Talk about more nutritional bang for your buck! However, it’s worth noting that eggs contain vitamin D only in the healthy fats of the yolk, so make sure not to leave them out. Young woman eating fortified cereal, a good food source of vitamin D, with berries

9. Fortified Cereal

  • Serving size: ¾-1 cup
  • % Daily Value: 10
  • IUs per serving: 40
Fortified cereals with vitamin D have boosted nutrient profiles to make nutrient intake convenient and tasty. This fortification is particularly suited for American diets that also tend to lack calcium and iron (among other crucial nutrients). It’s like having your favorite childhood comfort food modified to be healthier—but there’s a catch. Fortified cereals often use their healthy nutrient claims to hide unhealthy amounts of added sugar in their product. To ensure you’re following a well-balanced diet, keep an eye on serving sizes and your overall daily sugar intake.

10. Swiss Cheese

  • Serving size: 1 oz
  • % Daily Value: 2
  • IUs per serving: 6
Although it may make only a slight contribution towards your daily vitamin D consumption, you can easily add a slice or two of Swiss cheese to other D3-rich foods. For example, add an ounce to your egg scramble or as a side to canned tuna to add up those IUs.

Final Thoughts

In sum, we always recommend aiming to get your recommended daily dose of nutrients primarily through your diet. Fortunately, there’s a decent chance that you already eat some of the best foods for vitamin D including in this list. However, if you don’t favor these foods high in vitamin D—or if your levels still fall short—you can always opt for a vitamin D supplement like HUM’s vegan D3, Here Comes the Sun.
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