To ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D, you have a multitude of options at your disposal. While calcium often takes the spotlight for maintaining strong, healthy bones, it’s crucial to acknowledge the vital role that vitamin D plays in bone health. Without it, the calcium you obtain from yogurt, cheese, and even vegetables like broccoli wouldn’t effectively absorb into your bones, as stated by Donald Ford, MD, a family medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic.
Vitamin D not only aids in the prevention of osteoporosis, a condition that renders bones brittle, but also helps maintain bone strength over time. To meet the needs of 95% of the population, the Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 600-1000 IU of Vitamin D, according to Tania Elliott, MD, an instructor of clinical medicine at NYU Langone.
Thankfully, there are various ways to achieve the recommended daily dosage.
Let’s explore some of these options:
- Sunlight While sunlight stimulates the body’s production of vitamin D, it’s important to balance this benefit with the risk of developing skin cancer. Approximately 20 to 25 minutes of sun exposure during the day can be beneficial, but safeguarding your skin from harmful rays is crucial. Keep in mind that higher latitudes, winter months, older age, or darker skin tones may hinder the sun’s ability to meet your daily needs. It’s worth noting that light passing through a window is not sufficient for vitamin D synthesis.
- Fresh Fatty Fish Different types of fish, especially those higher in fat content, are excellent sources of vitamin D. Rainbow trout, cooked and measured at three ounces, contains 645 IUs of vitamin D, while cooked salmon provides 570 IUs. Sardines, tuna fish, and cod liver oil are also rich in vitamin D. A study published in February 2021 in Environment International highlighted Atlantic mackerel and herring as great sources of this essential vitamin. Consuming fatty fish not only boosts your vitamin D intake but also provides heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Canned Fish Canned fish offers an alternative way to increase your vitamin D consumption. Tuna and sardines canned in oil are particularly excellent sources. Canned light tuna contains around 150 IUs per 4 ounces, canned albacore tuna has approximately 50 IUs per 4 ounces, and two canned sardines provide a little over 40 IUs. Additionally, canned fish is often more affordable than fresh fish and has a longer shelf life, making it a convenient option to keep on hand.
- Certain Mushrooms Mushrooms possess the remarkable ability to produce vitamin D, much like humans. Treating mushrooms with UV light fortifies them with vitamin D, as explained by Dr. Elliott. Vitamin D-rich mushrooms, such as portobello mushrooms, are worth exploring, especially for vegetarians seeking plant-based sources of the vitamin.
- Fortified Milk In the United States, nearly all types of cow’s milk are fortified with vitamin D. An 8-ounce glass of milk typically contains at least 100 IUs of the vitamin, while a 6-ounce serving of yogurt provides around 80 IUs. Some soy and rice milks are also fortified, but it’s essential to check the label for vitamin D content.
- Some Types of Orange Juice For individuals who prefer non-dairy options, fortified orange juice can be a source of vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D in an 8-ounce glass of fortified juice varies among brands, typically providing around 100 IUs. Remember to check the label to ensure the brand you choose is fortified with vitamin D.
- Egg Yolks Eggs serve as a convenient source of vitamin D, as they are versatile ingredients found in numerous recipes. It’s important to note that vitamin D in eggs is concentrated in the yolk, so consuming the entire egg is necessary to benefit from its vitamin D content. One yolk contains approximately 40 IUs of vitamin D. However, relying solely on eggs for your daily vitamin D intake is not recommended due to their cholesterol content.
- Fortified Cereal Opting for low-calorie fortified cereal can help you incorporate vitamin D into your daily routine. Combining a 1-cup serving of fortified cereal (approximately 29 grams) with half a cup of fortified milk can provide around 140 IUs of vitamin D. Adding an 8-ounce glass of fortified orange juice could bring your total intake to over 200 IUs.
- Beef Liver Although not the most appealing option, cooked beef liver contains approximately 50 IUs of vitamin D per 3.5-ounce serving, along with other essential nutrients like vitamin A, iron, and protein. However, due to its high cholesterol content, it’s advisable to consume beef liver in moderation or explore alternative sources such as oily fish.
- Cod Liver Oil Despite its reputation for an acquired taste, cod liver oil often comes flavored with mint or citrus or is available in capsule form. A single tablespoon contains around 1,300 IUs of vitamin D, surpassing the recommended dietary allowance of 600 IUs per day. While this amount doesn’t exceed the maximum daily intake for individuals over 8 years old (4,000 IUs), it does surpass the maximum intake for infants (1,000 IUs). Exercise caution and consult a healthcare provider before considering cod liver oil supplementation.
- Ultraviolet Lamps and Bulbs Individuals at high risk of vitamin D deficiency may resort to UV-emitting lamps and bulbs. These devices are similar to tanning beds but smaller in size. However, their use carries the same risks of skin cancer and requires protective eyewear. It’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before using UV lamps or bulbs, as their usage should be recommended and supervised.
While some people turn to supplements for additional vitamin D intake, the necessity of supplementation remains a subject of controversy in medicine. Routine testing and screening for vitamin D deficiency is generally not recommended unless there are specific concerns. It’s worth noting that reliable tests and acceptable reference ranges for vitamin D are still evolving, making accurate assessment challenging.
Finally, it’s important to be aware that excessive vitamin D intake can have adverse health effects over time. Intake levels below 250 mcg (10,000 IU) are unlikely to cause toxicity symptoms. However, the Food and Nutrition Board cautions that even lower vitamin D intakes might have adverse effects, including dehydration, nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, cardiac arrhythmias, soft tissue calcification, and even death. Before adding any new supplements to your daily routine, consider exploring natural sources of vitamin D, spending time in the sun within recommended limits, and consulting with a healthcare provider to ensure your bone health is adequately supported.