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Elevate Your Vitamin D Intake with These 10 Nutrient-Rich Foods

Are you getting your daily dose of vitamin D? This essential nutrient plays a vital role in maintaining healthy cells, boosting your immune system’s defenses, and aiding in calcium absorption for strong bones. It’s even a guardian against bone diseases like rickets in children and osteoporosis in older adults, as highlighted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The significance of vitamin D intake is so profound that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started requiring its inclusion on nutrition labels in 2018.

Vitamin D intake
How’s Your D

Vitamin D is naturally synthesized in your body when exposed to sunlight. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for most adults stands at 600 international units (IU) or 15 micrograms (mcg), according to the NIH. However, for individuals above 80, the RDA increases to 800 IU (20 mcg).

Where Do We Get Vitamin D?

Despite the sun’s contribution, many people struggle to obtain enough vitamin D from sunlight alone. Unfortunately, food isn’t a robust source of this vital nutrient either, explains Lori Zanini, RD, a dietitian based in Los Angeles. The 2013–2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) revealed that the average daily vitamin D intake from the diet was a mere 204 IU for men and 168 IU for women. Even if you opt for vitamin D-fortified whole milk (which contains slightly more vitamin D than reduced-fat or skim), 8 fluid ounces provide only 95.6 IU, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It’s no surprise that approximately 24 percent of Americans find themselves deficient in vitamin D, as reported in a January 2020 review published in Nature. A vitamin D deficiency signifies having less than 20 nanograms per milliliter of the nutrient in your blood, as per the NIH. If you belong to the nonwhite community, struggle with obesity, or lack sufficient sun exposure, your risk of being vitamin D deficient is even higher, as the NIH suggests. Confirm your status with a blood test administered by your healthcare provider.

How to Amp Up Your Vitamin D Intake

As with most nutrients, the best approach is to obtain vitamin D naturally through safe sun exposure and, whenever possible, through your diet. However, if your doctor confirms a deficiency, supplements might become necessary. There are two primary types: vitamin D2 and D3. Zanini favors vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), found in animal-sourced foods, as it has shown greater efficacy in raising and maintaining vitamin D levels over time. For those on a plant-based diet, vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) supplements, manufactured using UV irradiation of ergosterol in yeast, represent a suitable alternative, according to the NIH.

If you’re not deficient, recent research suggests that bone health might not significantly benefit from vitamin D supplements. A study published on July 28, 2022, in the New England Journal of Medicine investigated the effects of 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 supplements versus a placebo in over 25,000 healthy, nondeficient volunteers aged 50 and above. The aim was to determine if the supplement would reduce the risk of bone fractures over a five-year period. The results indicated that, compared to the placebo, it did not provide significant protection.

Given that few foods naturally contain vitamin D, it’s crucial to incorporate these nutrient-rich options into your diet, alongside vitamin D-fortified foods. “Prioritize getting vitamin D from your diet,” advises Zanini. Here are ten foods to enrich your diet and ensure you’re meeting your vitamin D needs:

Vitamin D intake
Natural D

Seared Salmon With Rosé and Herb Pan Sauce

  • Ingredients:
    • 1½ cups rice, for serving
    • 1 bunch trimmed asparagus, for serving
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 6-oz portions skin-on wild salmon (center cut)
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
    • 1 lemon, halved
    • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
    • 1 shallot, minced
    • 1 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
    • 1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
    • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
    • 1 tbsp capers, rinsed
    • ⅔ cup Bonterra rosé
  • Directions:
    1. Cook the rice according to package instructions, keeping it warm until ready to serve.
    2. Roast the asparagus in the oven at 400 degrees F until lightly caramelized and crisp-tender.
    3. Season salmon with salt and pepper, then sear in a cast-iron skillet. Remove the salmon and prepare a pan sauce with rosé, herbs, and capers.
    4. Serve the salmon atop rice with roasted asparagus, drizzle with the rosé pan sauce, and enjoy!
    5. In a coated cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed frying pan, add the olive oil and heat over medium high heat until shimmering. Add salmon (skin side up) and halved lemon and cook for about 4 minutes, or until salmon is golden brown and can easily move around the pan. Remove lemon from the pan and set aside on a plate. Flip salmon and cook skin side down for another 3 minutes, then add to the plate with the lemon and tent loosely with foil.
    6. Drain olive oil from the skillet and add 1 tbsp of butter. Once melted, add shallot and cook for about 2 minutes or until they start to soften. Deglaze the pan with the rosé, scraping up brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring wine to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper, then remove from heat
    7. NutritiAdd the capers, herbs, and remaining 1 tbsp of butter and mount the sauce by slowly swirling the butter around in the pan
    8. Serve the salmon on top of prepared rice with roasted asparagus and a spoonful of the rosé pan sauce.

10 Foods to Increase Your Vitamin D Intake

Mushrooms Make Their Own

While mushrooms don’t naturally offer a high amount of vitamin D, they, like humans, can make it when they’re exposed to UV light, with the help of a compound known as ergosterol. Researchers found that adding a single serving of UV light-exposed mushrooms resulted in a nearly 100 percent increase in vitamin D intake, according to a study published March 2021 in Food Science & Nutrition. 

Growers such as Monterey Mushrooms produce varieties high in vitamin D, but you have to read the labels. The vitamin D amounts will vary depending on the amount of UV light the mushrooms are exposed to, according to the Agricultural Research Service. A 3 oz serving of UV-exposed white, portobello, or baby bella mushrooms from Monterey Mushrooms has 400 IU.

Another good reason to eat ’shrooms? The same Food Science & Nutrition study found that a single 3 oz serving of mushrooms added to the menu increased intake of other micronutrients, including fiber, copper, phosphorus, potassiumselenium, zinc, riboflavinniacin, choline, iron, thiamine, folate, and vitamin B6, without adding calories, carbohydrates, fat, or sodium. 

Salmon Is a Superfood With Vitamin D

Not only is salmon a great option if you’re looking for protein to add to your diet, but it’s also rich in the sunshine vitamin. According to the USDA, 3 oz of cooked sockeye salmon has about 570 IU of vitamin D. The same amount of pink canned salmon contains 465 IU, per the USDA. “In addition to vitamin D, salmon is a great addition to anyone’s diet, with it also being a good source of healthy protein and omega-3 fatty acids,” says Zanini. According to the NIH, fish offer two critical omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which you must get through food. Omega-3s help keep your immune, pulmonary, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems healthy.

Swordfish Can Be Great — in Moderation

Swordfish is another favorite of Zanini’s. Three cooked ounces provide 566 IU, according to the USDA, which nearly gets you to your daily recommended intake of vitamin D. “The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week, and this fish is versatile and tasty,” she adds. The AHA advises children and pregnant women to avoid large fish, such as swordfish, because they have higher levels of mercury contamination than smaller, less long-lived species. For that reason, it’s recommended to make swordfish no more than one of your two weekly servings of fish.

Packaged Tuna Is a Source of Vitamin D Intake

According to the USDA, 3 oz of canned tuna in water contains 68 IU of vitamin D. The affordable cupboard staple is great for easy lunches, such as a classic tuna sandwich or tuna salad. Just try to stick with the types of tuna with the lowest mercury levels are your best bet — the FDA recommends going for light tuna as the best choice.

Fortified Milk Offers a Double Whammy: Vitamin D and Calcium

In addition to being an excellent source of calcium, 8 fluid ounces (fl oz) of fortified whole milk has 95.6 IU of vitamin D, per the USDA. According to the NIH, that added vitamin D improves calcium absorption. Just be sure to check the label of your favorite brand for its specs. Fortified plant-based milks, such as soy and almond, can provide similar amounts of vitamin D.

Fortified Orange Juice Can Give You a Healthy Start to the Day

One cup (8 fl oz) of fortified orange juice can add 99.6 IU of vitamin D to your daily total, per the USDA; the NIH recommends checking the label for exact numbers because counts can vary. Serve a glass of OJ with breakfast or add it to a mango strawberry smoothie, a delicious and portable morning meal. Keep in mind that it’s generally healthiest to enjoy whole fruit rather than its juice form, since the former still contains filling fiber, per Harvard Health Publishing, so drink juice in moderation. 

Fortified Yogurt Makes for a Gut-Healthy Snack

Yogurt is a convenient, tasty snack — and when consumed plain or with fresh fruit, it’s healthy, too. This type of dairy is an excellent source of good-for-the-gut probiotics, and reaching for a fortified variety (“fortified” is usually printed on the front of the packaging, but sometimes it’s on the nutrition label) will knock off between 10 and 20 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin D, depending on the brand. Many fortified varieties are flavored (meaning they’re likely to be sugar bombs), so read the nutrition label to find out what you’re getting. The AHA recommends a max of 9 teaspoons (tsp) or 26 g of added sugar for men per day and a max of 6 tsp or 25 g of added sugar for women per day.

Cereal Can Start Your Day With Vitamin D

Ready-to-eat fortified cereal typically gives you 40 IU of vitamin D per serving, per the NIH, but it may provide more if you choose a more heavily fortified cereal, like Raisin Bran, which has 60.2 IU per cup, notes the USDA. Fortified cereal can be a solid base for a nutrient-rich, high-fiber meal — especially if you add fortified low-fat or fat-free milk to your bowl for an extra 58.5 IU per half cup, per the USDA. Or you can be more adventurous and make a breakfast cookie that includes both fortified cereal and vitamin D–fortified margarine.

Whole Eggs Have Vitamin D and Other Micronutrients

Egg yolks have historically gotten a bad rap for raising levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, as Harvard Health Publishing notes. But skipping them in favor of egg whites means you’ll miss out on some of the protein and several of the minerals in yolks, such as zinc and selenium, which play a role in boosting your immune system. And you’ll miss out on vitamin D, too. Two egg yolks contain roughly 65 IU, per the USDA, making them a good source. Yolks also contain dietary fat, which your body needs to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like D.

Sardines Combine Vitamin D With Calcium, Omega-3s, and Protein

Fresh fish can be pricey. If that’s holding you back, give canned sardines a try. They’re more affordable than other forms of fish and are high in protein, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and vitamin D. One can of sardines in oil offers 178 IU of the vitamin, according to the USDA. The underrated fish works well on top of salads, as well as in pasta sauces and stews.

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