As a population, one nutrient we simply aren’t getting enough of is Vitamin D. Minimal exposure to sunlight, the Western diet and a lack of supplementation are all contributing to our inability to meet requirements. Making important changes to your diet can certainly help, but make sure you include these five Vitamin D rich foods to reduce the risk of deficiency.
A Brief Introduction to Vitamin D
We covered Vitamin D and it's main benefits at length in our article "The Benefits of Vitamin D3", but in essence Vitamin D is needed for maintaining healthy teeth, bones and muscles, so, being "D-ficient" can cause a whole host of health problems including osteomalacia (softening of bones), osteoporosis, rickets and muscle weakness. Studies have also linked low Vitamin D levels with increased risk of mental health conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Depression.
Fortunately, our skin can synthesize its own supply of Vitamin D when exposed to UVB rays from the sun. However, factors such as low UVB strength, wearing clothes, working indoors and typical British weather all inhibit this process! So, it’s unlikely that the average amount of sun exposure is enough to raise Vitamin D levels to the amount needed to meet our requirements.
Food Sources of Vitamin D
A healthy, balanced and varied diet is often enough to ensure adequate intake of a whole spectrum of nutrients, but in the case of Vitamin D, it can be a little bit harder as food sources of Vitamin D are few. We need to make a conscious and proactive effort to eat vitamin d rich foods so we thought we'd help by listing five foods that containing high levels of the sunshine vitamin.
Fatty fish such as salmon is a rich source of Vitamin D, with a typical 100g fillet containing enough to meet daily requirements by up to 50%. Salmon is also packed with beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to improve eye, brain and heart health. What’s more, the high fat content of salmon helps to absorb Vitamin-D, as it is a fat-soluble vitamin.
Choosing the Best: Wild caught salmon has a far better nutritional profile than farmed salmon; containing more Omega-3, less Omega-6 and less saturated fats, plus they can contain around half the calories of their farmed counterparts. What’s more, wild caught fish is more sustainable and creates less pollution.
- Red Meat
Red meat is host to a powerhouse of nutrients including protein, iron, zinc, Vitamin B12 and, you guessed it – Vitamin D! Red meat contains the naturally occurring form of Vitamin D, cholecalciferol or D3, that’s the active form which is easily absorbed and utilised by the body.
Offal products such as liver contain a much higher amount of D3 than conventional cuts of meat. But, for the majority of people who don’t often do offal it may be more realistic to include a variety of meat to boost overall levels – rather than aim for a whopping dose from liver alone!
Choosing the Best: When it comes to red meat, processed is a no go. Processed meat has been linked with increased risk of heart attack, stroke and even bowel cancer. Instead, opt-for whole cuts such as steaks or minimally processed such as mince. Always opt for grass-fed, or pasture for life meat – a worthwhile investment in both health and taste, that’s also better for the environment and animal welfare.
- Egg Yolks
Egg yolks contain as much Vitamin D as some meat and offal products. For those who don’t eat meat but do eat dairy, eggs are perhaps the best source of Vitamin D besides supplements. The yolk specifically contains fats, vitamins and minerals, with the white of the egg supplying a protein boost.
Eggs are an incredibly versatile ingredient that you can incorporate into almost any meal. Whether paired with meat and fish or used as part of a vegetarian diet – they’re a cracking way to boost Vitamin D levels!
Choosing the Best: Eggs from free range, pasture-raised chickens have been shown to contain 3-4 times as much Vitamin D than those from barn-raised chicken. That’s because they’re roaming around in the sunshine all day, making their own Vitamin D just as we do. Look out for ‘Vitamin D eggs’ – which are produced by chickens fed a Vitamin D enriched diet for an additional nutrient boost.
- Milk, Cheese and Dairy-free Alternatives
Cheese naturally contains high levels of Vitamin D and is often made using fortified cow’s milk, which boosts content further. Cow’s milk and plant-based dairy free alternatives are also commonly fortified with Vitamin D.
These are also great sources of calcium and other minerals, which Vitamin D helps to absorb for a double whammy health boost, particularly for strong and healthy bones.
Choosing the best: You guessed it, go organic and avoid anything that’s been heavily processed to increase its shelf-life.
Mushrooms are the only plant-based source of Vitamin D, aside from fortified foods such as cereal. UV light used to grow mushrooms increases their content of Vitamin D. They’re also loaded with vitamins and minerals whilst having a very low calorie content. Mushrooms are particularly high in health boosting Selenium, B Vitamins and antioxidants.
The bad news is that the type of Vitamin D they contain, D2, is the inactive form. Whilst consuming mushrooms does increase blood levels of Vitamin D, this isn’t the active form and so it is used less efficiently in the body.
Choosing the best: Like any plant-based food it’s always best to choose organic. Non-organic food can contain pesticides, herbicides and toxins that are harmful to health. Choosing organic means avoiding these as well as other nasties such as GMO ingredients.
Vitamin D Supplements: Your Daily Safety Net
Studies have shown that most people in the UK aren’t getting enough Vitamin D, by up to 50%. If you’re including all of these foods in your daily diet, then you’re onto a winner. If not, or if you’re following a vegetarian or plant-based diet, chances are you’re at risk of deficiency – just like most of the population.
Our Vegan Vitamin D3 supplement offers 1000IU or 25mcg in each capsule, which is 250% NRV for Vitamin D. We use a plant sourced Cholecalciferol making it suitable for vegans and vegetarians whilst providing you with Vitamin D in the active form – ready to be absorbed and work its magic in the body!
If you have any further questions about Vitamin D, please leave us a comment below.
Thanks for reading,
Natural Nutrients Nutritionist