10 Foods High in Vitamin D to Boost Your Diet

by Gaby Vaca-Flores, RD

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Need to boost your levels of the vital sunshine vitamin? Gaby Vaca-Flores, RD, clues us in on 10 of the best foods high in vitamin D.

Why Vitamin D Is Important

Vitamin D plays a powerful role in the development and functioning of our bones by regulating calcium absorption. Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D helps with important body functions pertaining to both immune and muscle health.

Unfortunately, many of us struggle with getting enough vitamin D. In fact, researchers estimate that over 40 percent of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency. Deficiency typically results from two sources: a lack of sunlight exposure and an unbalanced diet. If you lack vitamin D, sunshine may not be the safest way to go about raising your intake. As important as sun protection is, SPF can repel vitamin D-producing UV rays. And, of course, you should never sustain prolonged sun exposure without sunblock.

Instead, I recommend you keep reading to discover 10 vitamin D rich foods to up your levels through nutrition.

How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?

The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) suggests a daily intake of 400-to-800 IU’s of vitamin D to maintain bone health and normal calcium metabolism. Of course, this value can vary depending on your health status, age, gender, and geographic location.

International Units, aka IU’s, are widely used to measure fat-soluble vitamins based on their potency. However, counting IU’s may not be user friendly to most, especially when reading food labels while shopping for vitamin D foods. As a solution, the FDA created % Daily Values, or % DV, for consumers to better understand the nutrient content for a serving of food in the context of your overall diet.

Top 10 Foods High in Vitamin D

Note: The following serving sizes, % Daily Values, and International Units (IU) are all derived from the National Institutes of Health.

1. Cod liver oil

  • Serving size: 1 tbsp
  • % Daily Value: 340
  • IU’s per serving: 1,360

This fish oil supplement is the easiest, quickest way to add more vitamin D into your daily diet. Consuming robust 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, adding cod liver oil to your daily diet can help offset age-related bone loss. As an added bonus (and like other fish oils), cod liver oil boasts high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A.

Raw organic swordfish, one of the best foods for vitamin D

2. Swordfish

  • Serving size: 3 oz
  • % Daily Value: 142
  • IU’s 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 including 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.

3. Salmon

  • Serving size: 3 oz
  • % Daily Value: 112
  • IU’s per serving: 447

The World Health Organization recommends eating one or two servings of fish per week, and it’s no secret that salmon makes a great option. After all, salmon is a superfood leader for both brain and heart health. Not only is it an excellent food source of vitamin D, but it also provides ample amounts of omega-3s, vitamin B12, and selenium—all of which are shown to support cognitive and neurological health.

4. Tuna

  • Serving size: 3 oz
  • % Daily Value: 39
  • IU’s per serving: 154

Eating tuna (canned in water and drained) is a great, portable, high-protein snack option. Like most fish, tuna provides additional perks in addition to its high vitamin D content. Eating tuna regularly can help support healthy blood pressure, immune health, vision, and strong bones.

Attention, non-seafood lovers: The next options are for you!

5. Orange Juice

  • Serving size: 1 cup
  • % Daily Value: 34
  • IU’s per serving: 137

Fortified orange juice is a simple, refreshing way to start your day with vitamin D. Orange juice naturally provides key nutrients including folate, vitamin C, and potassium. So what’s the deal with fortified juice? It’s often enriched with calcium to help maximize nutrient absorption. However, there’s significant debate on whether or not juice is healthy. But when consumed in moderation, fortified juice can contribute to a well-balanced diet.

Woman drinking milk, which has vitamin D, with green apple in hand

6. Milk

  • Serving size: 1 cup
  • % Daily Value: 29-31
  • IU’s 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 reach for yogurt to get your fix of vitamin D. With six ounces of fortified yogurt providing 20 percent of the recommended daily value, it makes for another great vitamin D food source.

7. Margarine

  • Serving size: 1 tbsp
  • % Daily Value: 15
  • IU’s per serving: 60

Looking for an effortless way to up your vitamin D intake? Cook with margarine—but sparingly, of course. Cooking your favorite veggie stir-fry with a tablespoon of margarine can help fill any vitamin D deficiencies in your diet. Margarine is a butter lookalike processed from vegetable oils that functions as a heart-healthy alternative to butter. 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 g trans fat” on the label.)

8. Eggs

  • Serving size: 1 large egg
  • % Daily Value: 10
  • IU’s 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. One large egg offers vitamin A, vitamin B5, vitamin B12, vitamin B2, folate, selenium, and phosphorus. Talk about more bang for your buck! However, it’s worth nothing that vitamin D is only found in the healthy fats of the yolk, so make sure not to leave them out.

Young woman eating fortified cereal, a good source of vitamin D, with berries

9. Fortified Cereal

  • Serving size: ¾-1 cup
  • % Daily Value: 10
  • IU’s per serving: 40

Fortified cereals have boosted nutrient profiles to make nutrient intake convenient and tasty. This fortification is particularly suited for American diets that lack vitamin D, calcium, iron, and 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 adhering to a well-balanced diet, it’s important to keep an eye on serving sizes and your overall daily sugar intake.

10. Swiss Cheese

  • Serving size: 1 oz
  • % Daily Value: 2
  • IU’s per serving: 6

Although it may make only a slight contribution towards your daily vitamin D consumption, Swiss cheese can easily be added to other foods containing the sunshine vitamin. 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 daily dose of nutrients primarily through your diet. 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 Here Comes the Sun.

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