get more vitamin D

Debbie J., MS, RD contributed this article –

Now that the winter months are approaching, and daylight hours are fewer, you can’t rely on sun exposure to generate adequate Vitamin D in your skin. Why do we need to focus on getting enough Vitamin D?  Well, because this particular nutrient may protect you against osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer and other diseases. Vitamin D maintains normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, and it helps calcium do its job to maintain strong bones. Additionally, your muscles need it for contractions, the nervous system needs it to send messages and your immune system needs it to fight off bacteria and viruses.

The health benefits of getting adequate Vitamin D are evidenced in research over the past two decades. In fact, in 2010 the Institute of Medicine increased its recommended intake of this fat-soluble vitamin to 600 IU per day (and 800 IU if over 70 years old).

Did you know…Vitamin D also goes by the name cholecalciferol and is known chemically as 1,25-DHCC? You may see a number after Vitamin D if it’s been added – basically, D2 is the plant form and D3 is the animal form.

There are just a handful of natural Vitamin D food sources in Western food markets. Traditional nutrition textbooks list milk, cheese, fish and eggs as good sources, but there are other options as well. You do need to search for them as they are not so easily found.

In fact, the following contain the highest amount in a standard serving*:

  • Cod liver oil
  • Maitake mushrooms
  • Canned salmon
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Swordfish
  • Sturgeon
  • Mackerel
  • Nonfat dry milk powder w/ added Vitamin D
  • Vitamin D fortified cereals (content varies)


Notable foods that contain a moderate amount of vitamin D include:

  • Tuna
  • Vitamin D fortified cheese
  • Halibut
  • Egg yolks
  • Herring & sardines
  • Morel and chanterelle mushrooms
  • Rockfish
  • Tilapia

Are added vitamins in soy, rice and almond milk as good as those added to dairy milk?

Surprise! Fluid milk didn’t even make the list, neither did cheddar or Colby cheese.  Of course these are important sources of Calcium, so don’t skip dairy all together. However, these foods only contain a marginal amount of Vitamin D per standard serving, so if you’re striving to consistently meet your Vitamin D recommended intake goal, you’ll need to choose the specific types of fish mentioned previously and include fortified cereals and eggs regularly in your diet.


Here’s a sample day showing how you can meet the RDA for Vitamin D from typical American foods:

  • Two large eggs, fried in 1 pat butter – 13.5%
  • 1 Cup Vitamin D fortified cereal – 10%
  • 1 Cup fluid nonfat milk with added Vitamin D – 18%
  • any fruit (part of a healthy diet) – 0%
  • Tuna melt sandwich:
    • 2 slices bread – 0%
    • 3 oz. canned light tuna in oil, drained – 38%
    • 1 oz. Cheddar cheese – 2%
    • 2 pats butter for grilling – 1%
    • any vegetables (part of a healthy diet) – 0%
  • 6 oz. grilled veal shoulder blade chop – 15%
  • Salad with ¼ C. sliced Portabella mushrooms – 0.5%
  • any grains or starches (part of a healthy diet) – 0%
  • ½ Cup rich vanilla ice cream – 2%
  • TOTAL = 100% 



*based on 100 grams, data from USDA Agricultural Research Service Nutrient Database SR27, 8.29.2014

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Debbie James is a registered dietitian. Any views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or recommendations of Fitness International, LLC.



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