Vitamin D is an essential component of health. This hailed vitamin is most famously responsible for bone health, but some data suggests this vitamin may also play a role in protecting you from diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer and even depression.
And vitamin D deficiency is no joke. It can cause osteoporosis, osteomalacia, brittle bones and increase your risk of fractures. A lack of vitamin D can even affect your immune and nervous system.
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Luckily, sunlight (in moderation), supplements and food sources can help get your numbers up to where they should be.
“Many people are able to meet their daily requirement of vitamin D from sun exposure and a balanced diet,” says registered dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDE. “But certain groups of people are more likely to develop a deficiency.”
Those most at risk for vitamin D deficiency include:
- Older adults.
- People with limited sun exposure.
- People who are obese or who have had gastric bypass surgery.
- Those with dark skin.
- Infants who are exclusively breastfed without vitamin D supplementation.
- People with certain digestive diseases that result in malabsorption.
For most children and adults, about 600 international units per day is recommended, however it can range up to 4,000 international units per day depending on health needs. (Most supplements offer about 2,000 international units of vitamin D per pill.)
Vitamin D: Whole foods vs. fortified foods
Fortified foods are meant to help boost vitamin and mineral intake. They’re designed to add nutrients that don’t naturally occur in the product. Sometimes iron, fiber, zinc or vitamin A is added. For instance, most milk is fortified with vitamin D and calcium is sometimes added to orange juice.
“Since so few foods found in nature are good sources of vitamin D, fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D found in the American diet,” explains Taylor.
But she warns that some fortified foods can contain added ingredients that make the product less healthy, like sugar or hydrogenated fats. Cow’s milk and most plant alternative milks are typically fortified with vitamin D, but it’s important to look for products with no added sugar.
Many types of yogurt and cereal are also fortified with vitamin D, but could contain excessive added sugar or saturated fat. Margarine is often fortified as well, but some products contain partially hydrogenated oils, which should be avoided. Read labels to choose the best product for your family.
Vitamin D foods
One of the best ways to get enough vitamin D in your diet is to eat a variety of healthy foods from all of the food groups, including some fortified foods. Also aim for about 15 minutes of mid-day sun exposure at least twice per week.
Foods that provide vitamin D include:
International units per serving.
- Beef liver (cooked). 3 ounces: 42 IU.
- Cereal, fortified with 10% of the daily value of vitamin D. 0.75 to 1 cup: 40 IU.
- Cod liver oil. 1 tablespoon: 1360 IU.
- Egg yolk. 1 large egg: 41 IU.
- Margarine, fortified. 1 tablespoon: 60 IU.
- Milk, fortified. 1 cup: 115-124 IU.
- Orange juice, fortified. 1 cup: 137 IU.
- Salmon (sockeye, cooked). 3 ounces: 447 IU.
- Sardines (canned in oil, drained). 2 sardines: 46 IU.
- Swiss cheese. 1 ounce: 6 IU.
- Swordfish (cooked). 3 ounces: 566 IU.
- Tuna (canned in water, drained). 3 ounces: 154 IU.
- Yogurt, fortified with 20% of the daily value of vitamin D. 6 ounces: 80 IU.