What Foods Are Highest in Vitamin D?

Medically Reviewed on 3/17/2021

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is important to keep the body healthy. It helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are needed to grow and maintain healthy bones, teeth, and muscles.

Vitamin D deficiency is common in people who do not spend enough time outside in direct exposure to sunlight or those who do not eat enough foods that contain Vitamin D. This can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children, and bone pain in adults caused by osteomalacia, a softening of the bones.  

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods. It’s also added to other foods and is available as a dietary supplement. Your body produces vitamin D when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strikes the skin.

 

Foods with vitamin D

The recommended daily intake of vitamin D from foods is 20 micrograms. However, If you’re not exposed to consistent sun on a daily basis, the recommended intake from food is 25 micrograms per day. 

Several foods contain vitamin D, including:

Salmon

Salmon is rich in vitamin D, though there can be a big difference in the amount based on whether the salmon is farmed or wild-caught. Wild salmon has on average 988 international units (IU) of vitamin D per a 3-ounce serving, while the same size serving for farm-raised salmon is around 250 IU, or almost a quarter of the total. 

Herring and sardines

Fresh Atlantic herring contains about 216 IU per 3-ounce serving. Pickled herring provides about 112 IU per serving. Canned sardines have 177 IU per 3.8-ounce can.

Other fatty fish 

There are several other oily, fatty fish that contain a good amount of vitamin D. Halibut (384 IU), mackerel (360 IU), and canned tuna (268 IU) can be good fish alternatives for a varied diet.

Cod liver oil 

This is a popular supplement taken for vitamin D consumption, specifically to prevent and treat vitamin D deficiency in children. In addition to containing 448 IU of vitamin D in a single teaspoon, cod liver oil is rich in vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids.

Egg yolks

Fish aren’t the only animal source of vitamin D. It can be found in chicken eggs, and the IU amount can vary significantly based on the conditions the chicken is kept. For example, a farm-raised chicken that spends most of its life indoors will produce eggs with about 37 IU, whereas chickens with moderate to complete exposure to the sun can reach IU levels of 148 and above.

Mushrooms

The only plant source to contain vitamin D, mushrooms can synthesize this vitamin when exposed to UV light. Mushrooms contain primarily vitamin D2, however, and some studies have shown that it might not be as good for you as D3.

Fortified foods

A common way to consume vitamin D is to eat foods that have been fortified with it. These can include: 

  • Cereal
  • Cheese
  • Cow’s milk
  • Soy milk
  • Orange juice
  • Oatmeal
  • Yogurt

SLIDESHOW

Vitamin D Deficiency: How Much Vitamin D Is Enough? See Slideshow

Risks and outlook

There might be some risks to consuming large quantities of vitamin D foods or supplements with certain medications like Orlistat, statins, steroids, and Thiazide diuretics. Consult a doctor if you are taking any of these medications and plan to increase your vitamin D intake.

The most natural way people get vitamin D is through direct exposure to the UV rays from sunlight. That said, too much exposure to UV rays could lead to sunburn, rashes, or even skin cancer. If you’re worried about your vitamin D intake, it’s a good idea to balance time spent in the sun with foods that contain vitamin D naturally or have been fortified. 

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Medically Reviewed on 3/17/2021
References
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Bioavailability of vitamin D2 from UV-B-Irradiated Button Mushrooms in Healthy Adults Deficient in Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D.”

Food and Chemical Toxicology: “Safety Assessment of the Post-Harvest Treatment of Button Mushrooms Using Ultraviolet Light.”

National Health Service: “Vitamin D.”

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin D.”

Nutrition: “Free-Range Farming: A Natural Alternative to Produce Vitamin D-Enriched Eggs.”

Pediatrics: “Vitamin D, Cod Liver Oil, Sunlight, and Rickets: A Historical Perspective.”

The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: “An Evaluation of the vitamin D Content in Fish.”

United States Department of Agriculture, FoodData Central: “Fish, Herring, Atlantic, Cooked, Dry Heat.”

United States Department of Agriculture, FoodData Central: “Fish, Salmon, Atlantic, Farmed, Cooked, Dry Heat.”

United States Department of Agriculture, FoodData Central: “Fish Oil, Cod Liver.”

United States Department of Agriculture, FoodData Central: “Vitamin D.”