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Home/Blog/Top 10 Vitamin D Foods & How to Boost Absorption

Top 10 Vitamin D Foods & How to Boost Absorption

By Joe Boland

February 26, 2024

Vitamin d foods

Vitamin D, often nicknamed the "sunshine vitamin," plays a crucial role in our health, influencing everything from bone strength and healthy immune function to one’s outlook and healthy cellular growth and function. In fact, vitamin D is a common nutrient shortfall for women and men, especially because there aren’t many dietary sources of vitamin D.

While adequate sun exposure is the primary source, incorporating vitamin D foods into your diet is an excellent way to help ensure you're getting enough of this essential nutrient. As always, you should consult with your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen.

Why Vitamin D Foods Are Important

Vitamin D boasts an impressive resume of benefits, which is why eating vitamin D foods and meeting the proper levels is vital. For instance, vitamin D benefits include promoting:

  • Healthy, Strong Bones: It promotes calcium absorption, crucial for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth.

  • Healthy Immune System Function: Vitamin D supports a healthy immune system function, helping your body keep its built-in “first line of defense,” in tip-top shape.

  • Healthy Muscle Function: It aids in muscle function and nerve transmission, contributing to balance, coordination and overall physical performance.

  • A Positive Outlook : Studies suggest vitamin D may play a role in promoting a positive mindset.

  • Healthy Cardiovascular Function: Vitamin D is thought to have a supportive effect on healthy cardiovascular function. 

How Much Do You Need? (RDA)

The recommended daily intake of vitamin D varies depending on age and individual health factors. Generally, adults need around 600 international units (IU) per day, while children and adolescents may require slightly more. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, here are the recommended daily intakes for vitamin D:

  • Babies 0–12 months: 10 micrograms (mcg)/400 IU

  • Children 1–13 years old: 15 mcg/600 IU

  • Teens 14–18: 15 mcg/600 IU

  • Adults 19–50: 15 mcg/600 IU

  • Adults 51–70: 15 mcg/600 IU

  • Adults older than 70: 20 mcg/800IU 

The best way to meet these needs is to get sunlight exposure, eat vitamin D foods and take a vitamin D supplement if necessary.

Consult your healthcare professional for personalized advice based on your specific needs.

How to Help Boost Absorption

Boosting vitamin D absorption involves a combination of sunlight exposure, dietary choices and certain lifestyle factors. Here are some tips:

1. Get Sunlight Exposure

It's a good idea to spend time outdoors. Aim for regular, moderate exposure to sunlight. 

The skin produces vitamin D when exposed to UVB rays. About 10–30 minutes of sunlight on your face, arms and legs a few times a week can be beneficial. The duration may vary based on factors like skin type, location and time of day.

2. Combine Vitamin D with Healthy Fats

Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, consuming it with healthy fats can enhance absorption. Include sources of healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil in your meals.

3. Consider Vitamin D Supplements

If you have limited sun exposure or have difficulty meeting your vitamin D requirements through food, vitamin D supplements can be an option. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine the right dosage for your specific needs.

4. Optimize Magnesium Intake

Magnesium is involved in the activation of vitamin D in the body. Ensure an adequate intake of magnesium-rich foods like nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables and whole grains.

5. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Vitamin D is fat-soluble, and individuals who are overweight may have lower bioavailability of vitamin D. Maintaining a healthy weight can contribute to better absorption.

6. Avoid Excessive Sunscreen Use

While it's essential to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, excessive use of sunscreen can limit vitamin D production. You may want to consider allowing some prudent,  unprotected sun exposure before applying sunscreen or during times when UVB exposure is lower.

7. Limit Alcohol Consumption

Excessive alcohol intake can interfere with vitamin D absorption. Moderating alcohol consumption may support optimal vitamin D levels.

8. Check Medications

Some medications, like certain anticonvulsants and glucocorticoids, can interfere with vitamin D absorption. If you're on medications, consult with your healthcare professional about potential effects on vitamin D levels.

Remember, even the best vitamin D foods need some help getting absorbed. Pair them with healthy fats like olive oil or avocado, as vitamin D is fat-soluble. Additionally, consider moderate, safe sun exposure during peak hours when possible.

Best Vitamin D Foods

1. Mackerel

  • 3 ounces of Atlantic mackerel contains 547 IU of vitamin D (91% DV*)

Loaded with vitamin D, mackerel fish also is high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients. It's also low in calories and a great addition to the diet.

2. Steelhead Trout

  • 3 ounces of steelhead trout contains 514 IU of vitamin D (86% DV)

Trout is another source of lean protein that's high in vitamin D. This type of fish is also a good source of potassium and provides healthy fats, making it ideal for vitamin D absorption.

3. Halibut

  • 3 ounces of halibut contains 196 IU of vitamin D (33% DV)

Another lean protein from the sea, halibut is similar to both mackerel and trout in that it's high in omega-3 and other healthy fats, plus loaded with B vitamins and several minerals. This makes it good for the body and mind.

4. Sardines

  • One 3.75-ounce can of Atlantic sardines canned in oil contains 178 IU of vitamin D (30% DV)

While they may not be all that appealing to everyone, sardines are certainly good for you. In addition to vitamin D, sardines provide plenty of heart-healthy fats, protein, B12, selenium and phosphorus, among other essential nutrients.

5. Morel Mushroom

  • 1 cup of morel mushrooms contains 136 IU of vitamin D (23% DV)

Although rare because they're foraged, not farmed, morel mushrooms are a high vitamin D food that also hold antioxidant power to help fight free radicals.

6. Fortified Milk

  • 1 cup of reduced fat milk (2% milkfat with added vitamin A and vitamin D) contains 111 IU of vitamin D (19% DV)

It’s no secret that milk is high in calcium and good for bones, but did you know it’s among the best vitamin D foods as well? It’s true, because most store-bought milk is fortified with vitamin D.

7. Almond Milk

  • 1 cup of unsweetened, plain almond milk contains 107 IU of vitamin D (18% DV)

If you want to cut back on dairy, almond milk makes a great replacement for cow's milk, and it has the added benefit of being high in vitamins E, D and A, along with minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. 

8. Eggs

  • 2 whole eggs (grade A large) contain 99 IU of vitamin D (17% DV)

You want to make sure you eat the whole egg to get the full nutritional value, which includes a great deal of protein, selenium, B12, phosphorus and riboflavin. Opt for eggs from free-range, organic chickens to ensure the best quality and the most humane conditions for the animals.

9. Tuna

  • 3 ounces of canned white tuna fish in water contains 68 IU of vitamin D (11% DV)

Another fatty fish that’s good for you and high in vitamin D, tuna is easy to buy and incorporate into your diet. Plus, it’s high in protein, omega-3 and antioxidants, making it a good food for the brain and the body.

10. Beef Liver

  • 4 ounces of beef liver contains 55.4 IU of vitamin D (9% DV)

In addition to vitamin D, beef liver is high in B vitamins and iron, which are important for energy levels. It's also a good source of vitamin A, copper, protein, choline, phosphorus and selenium.

Conclusion

While vitamin D-rich foods are crucial, remember they may not always fulfill your daily needs. Consider factors like sun exposure, lifestyle and individual requirements. 

Consult your healthcare professional to check your vitamin D levels and discuss if supplementation is necessary for optimal health. By incorporating these delicious and nutritious choices into your diet, you can help ensure your body is equipped with the sunshine vitamin to thrive!

Remember: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet or supplement regimen.

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