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10 Foods Rich in Vitamin D (& what Vitamin D is good for)

Fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, E, D, and K, are essential to our health. However, the one you might hear of most often is vitamin D. This is because vitamin D is one of the vitamins most Americans lack. You might be wondering if you are deficient or experiencing symptoms related to vitamin D deficiency. The only accurate way to know is to get a blood test done that checks vitamin D levels by your primary care doctor. 

Let’s review what vitamin D is good for and when or if you need to make lifestyle changes to improve your levels. 

Benefits of Vitamin D

Vitamin D and Bone Health

Vitamin D is mainly known for bone health due to its role in calcium absorption. Research has shown that vitamin D intake is crucial in our diets as an insufficient amount can lead to reduced bone mineralization, slower growth, bone deformities, and increased fracture risk. When vitamin D levels are low, calcium cannot be absorbed, and your body takes calcium from your bones to compensate. This is how vitamin D relates to bone health. 

Vitamin D and Sleep

We know that vitamin D plays a role in regulating melatonin. However, research is still figuring out exactly how. Those who experience sleep issues may find some comfort in the growing studies surrounding vitamin D and sleep. Yet, currently, there aren’t enough studies to recommend vitamin D supplementation for sleep disorders.

Vitamin D and Mental Health

While recently vitamin D has been talked about in conjunction with mental health, many studies actually show inconsistent and inconclusive results that do not support vitamin D supplementation for mental health. More studies definitely need to be done, but there is a promising result of vitamin D supplementation in conjunction with behavioral therapy or physical activity for mental health. 

Signs you may need more Vitamin D in your diet

Now that you know what vitamin D is good for, you may wonder if you need to supplement. Like many other vitamin deficiencies, you can be walking around and not know a thing Keke Palmer voice. However, you maybe be experiencing a few of these symptoms that may signal that you need to get your vitamin D levels checked:

  • Fatigue

  • Mood changes

  • Bone pain or achiness

  • Hair loss

  • Muscle weakness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Getting sick more easily

If you are experiencing these symptoms, I highly recommend getting to a doctor and checking your vitamin D levels with a blood test. Once your levels are evaluated, you can make lifestyle changes to improve your levels and, hopefully, all other areas in your life. 

Who needs Vitamin D the most?

If you do not consume a varied diet, you will likely need to focus on including foods in your diet that are high in vitamin D to help improve your levels. However, suppose you have a chronic illness that prevents proper absorption (e.g., Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis, Cystic Fibrosis, Celiac Disease, resection of duodenum or jejunum). In that case, you will likely need to supplement with an over-the-counter or prescription strength vitamin D supplement. 

Regarding age groups, infants and the elderly are most at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Infants are at risk because breast milk is not a good source of vitamin D and they also don’t receive much sun.  Those over 70 may also not consume enough vitamin D and need supplements. If you are a caregiver for either of those population groups, focus on including more vitamin D in their diets or starting a multivitamin.  

Recommended Dietary Allowances are provided for vitamin D to promote adequate intake: 400 IU per day for those younger than 1 year, 600 IU from 1 to 70 years of age (including pregnancy and lactation), and 800 IU for adults older than 70.

Getting Vitamin D from the sun

The most natural and free version of vitamin D is from the sun. The typical recommendation is that individuals expose skin (face, arms, legs, or back) for 5 to 30 minutes (depending on the amount of melanin in their skin) between 10 AM and 3 PM at least twice weekly. Those with darker skin and more melanin will likely need more sun exposure as our bodies do not absorb as much sunlight. Studies show that 10-30 mins can synthesize anywhere between 400 IU and up to 4,000 IU of vitamin D.

Vitamin D-rich foods

Some foods where vitamin D is naturally found are:

  • Fatty fish like salmon, trout, tuna, and mackerel

  • Canned fish like herring and sardines

  • Egg yolks

  • Mushrooms

  • Beef or fish liver

Foods high in vitamin D and foods fortified with vitamin D (salmon, egg, tuna, sardines, mushrooms, milk, orange juice, cereal, oatmeal) vitamin D is good for

Try adding these foods to your diet if you are experiencing vitamin D deficiency symptoms. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you may need to look for fortified sources to get sufficient vitamin D. Some fortified food sources include: orange juice, cereal, oatmeal, and cow’s milk. If you don’t drink cow’s milk or are lactose intolerant, I highly recommend looking for a lactose-free milk that is high in vitamin D. Some recommendations are here

When you should take Vitamin D supplements

Based on the recommendation from the RDA above (400-800 IU per day), you can meet this allowance by consuming a multivitamin. There are many over-the-counter vitamin D


Fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, E, D, and K, are crucial for health, with vitamin D being commonly deficient among Americans. Vitamin D is good for bone health, mental health and sleep cycles, therefore it is extremely helpful to consume some in your diet. Sun exposure and vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish and mushrooms are natural sources, while supplements may be necessary based on dietary habits and health conditions. Make sure you are getting your vitamin D in!

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