Vitamin D plays a critical role in the body. It partners with the digestive system to help the gut absorb calcium, which is vital for building and maintaining strong and healthy bones. Vitamin D is unique because it is not found in fresh fruits and vegetables, like most other essential vitamins. Instead, the body obtains it through sun exposure and some specific foods. Anyone who takes vitamin D supplements should ensure they also consume adequate magnesium, as this mineral works with the parathyroid glands to activate the vitamin D.
Fish, especially fatty types, not only contain a good amount of vitamin D per serving, but they also provide the body with omega-3 fatty acids. Herring contains the most vitamin D, but others including salmon, catfish, sardines, mackerel, and bluefish are also high in this essential vitamin. People who don’t eat much fish can opt for fish oil supplements, which deliver vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in what some consider a more palatable format.
Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil has a reputation of being a terrible-tasting medicine, but one tablespoon of this nutrient-packed concentrate contains over 100 percent of the recommended allowance of vitamin D. The oil is also available as a capsule supplement, but it is important to ensure you choose a brand that is pure fish oil. Some have additives that decrease the quantity of heart-healthy omega 3s and vitamins.
One large egg contains about 40 IU of vitamin D, but when added to other foods and supplements, it can help increase vitamin D levels. These high-protein bites are a nutritional powerhouse, packing riboflavin, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium. Eggs also contain choline, an essential nutrient of which many people don’t get enough. Choline deficiency can lead to memory loss, cognitive issues, liver problems, and nerve damage.
Caviar has earned its reputation in exclusive luxury and fine dining. Accompanied by champagne or not, this unique cuisine served in tiny portions offers a surprising nutrition profile. One ounce of caviar gives approximately 33 IU of vitamin D. It is also an excellent source of vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, and selenium. Caviar doesn’t have to break the bank, either. Many specialty grocers carry less expensive versions, as do Asian food markets.
Mushrooms contain ergosterol, a “pro-vitamin” that is converted into vitamin D by exposure to sunlight, similar to the process that takes place in humans. If mushrooms are grown while exposed to UV lamps, they are labeled “UV-treated” or “high in vitamin D” and contain 400 IU of the nutrient per 3 ounces.
Almost all pasteurized cow’s milk is fortified with vitamin D and contains, on average, 30 percent of the recommended daily allowance. Though unpasteurized milk and non-fortified milk may also contain vitamin D, it is less concentrated. Look for milk brands that are labeled as vitamin D fortified, as most milk brands sold in grocery stores do not contain this vitamin on their own.
Fortified Orange Juice
Certain brands fortify their orange juice with the same amount of vitamin D as fortified milk. One cup of OJ often offers 100 IU of vitamin D or about twenty percent of the recommended daily allowance in a 2000-calorie diet. Not all orange juice brands fortify with vitamin D, however, so it is important to check labels.
In addition to lots of probiotics that work wonders on the digestive system, yogurt is often fortified with vitamin D. One six-ounce serving of fortified yogurt contains about 20 percent of the daily Vitamin D requirement. Yogurt does not contain vitamin D naturally, so be sure to look for brands that add the nutrient.
Just like milk and orange juice, tofu is also often fortified with vitamin D. This soy product popular with vegetarians and vegans is also a rich source of vitamins B2, B6, B12, calcium, protein, and iron. Research shows tofu may lower the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, breast and prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, liver damage, and age-related cognitive decline.
Beef or Calf Liver
Not everyone enjoys the taste of liver, but it is one way to get a small amount of vitamin D, naturally. A 3.5-ounce serving of beef liver contains about twelve percent of daily vitamin D. Chicken liver also offers about 10 percent of the vitamin. Even though it is a source of vitamin D, liver is also high in cholesterol, so those with cholesterol concerns should opt for supplements, fish, or fortified, plant-based sources of vitamin D.
Certain cereals such as whole grain blends are fortified with vitamin D. A breakfast that includes fortified cereal in fortified milk with a fortified glass of orange juice could provide a good amount of the vitamin D one needs in a day. A ¾-cup serving of dry fortified cereal contains about ten percent of the RDI of vitamin D.
Pork Fats and Meats
Lard and bacon grease are cooking fats that can add a boost of flavor and nutrition to the plate. Anecdotal evidence suggests that lard or bacon grease from free-range pigs has higher concentrations of the nutrient. A teaspoon of free-range pork lard has almost 500 IU of vitamin D, supplying 83% of the recommended daily intake (RDI), assuming the pigs are exposed to sunlight. These fats are highly resistant to oxidation, making them useful for cooking at high temperatures. Spare ribs, cut from the area around the pig’s breastbone and belly, are also a rich source of vitamin D. An eight-ounce serving offers about 15% of the RDI for this nutrient.
A 3.5-ounce serving of eel has around 900 IU of vitamin D and provides more than 150% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin D. The snake-like fish also supplies hefty doses of vitamins A and B12 that support immune function and energy production. This food contains high amounts of protein, as well as omega-3 fatty acids that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Heavy metal contamination in seafood is a pervading concern, but studies show that eel has lower mercury levels than canned tuna and cod.
Roe derives from many fish species; the red-orange eggs in sushi, specifically, come from salmon. Fish roe is similar to caviar but significantly cheaper. It provides 81% the RDI of vitamin D in each 3.5-ounce portion. Roe also offers high amounts of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, which work together to facilitate vitamin D absorption. Roe is a treasure trove of iron, magnesium, calcium, and selenium.
One tablespoon of duck fat contains around 24 IU of vitamin D, about 4% of the recommended daily intake. It also carries a high concentration of glycine, an amino acid believed to play a critical role in skin health, sleep quality, and longevity. Some duck species from areas of environmental pollution show high levels of heavy metal contamination, so it is best to check the origin before consuming.