When we think about bone health, the first nutrient that usually comes to mind is calcium — and while adequate calcium intake is necessary to support bone health, vitamin D is equally important as your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Accordingly, deficiencies in vitamin D are linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis and low bone density. In addition to its crucial role in maintaining bone health, vitamin D is also required for the production and normal function of several hormones, and it reduces inflammation and supports the immune system.
Unlike any other vitamin, vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone. The majority of the body’s vitamin D requirements are met through endogenous production of the hormone, which occurs when cholesterol produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to UV sunlight. Vitamin D levels tend to drop in the winter, particularly at northern latitudes, due to the reduction in the intensity and duration of sunlight on the skin. As such, your vitamin D levels may change dramatically in the wintertime, and a simple lab test can determine your vitamin D status.
The current daily value of vitamin D for most adults is 800 IU or 20μg, but your needs may be higher or lower. Particularly if you don’t get much direct sun exposure, you may want to consider a vitamin D supplement, light therapy, or boosting your dietary intake of vitamin D by loading up on the foods highest in vitamin D, which are listed below.
Fatty fish are among the best dietary sources of vitamin D. A six-ounce filet of salmon, for instance, provides nearly 150% of the daily value, with 28.4μg. Canned salmon is also a great option, as it provides about 91% of the daily value in a three-ounce serving. Canned salmon is also quite high in calcium, along with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, and protein. Other fish high in vitamin D include smoked whitefish, swordfish, rainbow trout, canned sardines, halibut, and tilapia. Each provides over 30% of the daily value with options like trout, swordfish, and whitefish up around nearly 75%.
Interestingly, just like our own bodies, mushrooms also create vitamin D when exposed to UV light. You can even boost the natural vitamin D content in mushrooms prior to eating them by leaving them in the sun for 20 minutes or so. Sun-exposed crimini mushrooms are the highest in vitamin D, with an impressive 27.8μg per cup, which is approximately 140% of the daily value. Portabella mushrooms exposed to sunlight are a close second, with about 122% per cup. These meaty fungi hold up well to grilling, roasting, and stuffing.
Most daily milk and alternative plant-based milk are now fortified with vitamin D since this nutrient is required to absorb calcium. An eight-ounce glass of low-fat milk has a little over 3μg (about 16% DV). Fortified soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, and coconut milk usually contain similar amounts, but you should refer to the nutrition facts and product labeling to determine the exact concentration.
Like milk, most yogurt in the United States is fortified with vitamin D. One cup of fortified yogurt contains about 3.2μg of vitamin D, which is 16% of the daily value. Look for yogurt that contains live, active probiotics, which will support your digestive health and immune system. It’s also best to avoid yogurts that contain a lot of added sugars, hormones, and antibiotics.
Lots of people are reluctant to give tofu a try, but it’s actually relatively mild in flavor on its own. Rather, it takes on the flavors of whatever sauces or spices you cook it with. The majority of tofu is soaked in a calcium solution as it is formed, making it a great source of calcium for vegans and those on a plant-based diet. To aid the absorption of this calcium, most tofu is also fortified with vitamin D. One cup of fortified tofu provides about 5.7μg (28% DV) of vitamin D.
Orange juice is naturally high in immune-supportive vitamin C and potassium, an essential electrolyte that helps regulate fluid levels, blood pressure, and electrical signals in the heart. In the United States, orange juice is also usually fortified with calcium and vitamin D, though the vitamin D level is usually less than that added to milk and plant-based milk. One cup typically provides about 2.5 μg.
Breakfast cereals can also be high in vitamin D, though like many foods on this list, this is synthetic vitamin D used to fortify the product. The specific vitamin D content depends on the cereal, but there are plenty of healthy cereals that provide about 15-18% of the daily value. Fortified cereals are also usually rich in iron, calcium, and vitamin B12, a key nutrient for energy production.
There aren’t many foods on this list that are naturally high in vitamin D, as it’s not a nutrient found organically in many foods. That said, pork does contain some vitamin D. A pork chop contains about 10% of the daily value. Pork is also a great source of selenium, with each six-ounce chop providing about 80μg, which is nearly 150% of the daily value. You’ll also get a hefty dose of biotin, a vitamin crucial for supporting the health of your hair, skin, and nails.
Eggs aren’t particularly high in vitamin D, but relative to other unfortified foods, they are a good source. Each large egg has just over one microgram or about 6% of the daily value. However, don’t let these seemingly low numbers turn you away from this nutritious food. You’ll also get nutrients like protein, iron, and biotin.
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