Oh, Vitamin D, where would we be without you! The ‘sunshine vitamin’ is important to keep our body happy and healthy. From maintaining normal bones to supporting normal function of you immune system , vitamin D is one vitamin we can’t go without.
As we’re spending more time in our homes, a daily dose of Vitamin D has never been more important to help you and your family stay well. Get to know all the ways we can keep topped up on vitamin D and get inspired to include more food high in vitamin D in you and your family’s diet.
Natural sources of vitamin D
Our bodies are fully capable of making enough vitamin D to keep us healthy, it’s our lifestyles that sometimes cause us to fall short. In fact, 1 in 5 people in the UK have a vitamin D deficiency, so that’s how common it is!
It does make sense though, our skin needs to be exposed to sunlight every day, without sun protection or clothes covering it. The sun isn’t always shining, at least in the UK, which is why experts recommend we all consider taking a vitamin D supplement, especially in the darker autumn and winter months and if we are in at-risk groups e.g. have darker skin. Read our article Am I at risk of Vitamin D deficiency to find out more.
Did you know? In the UK, it’s only possible for our bodies to make vitamin D in the summer. This is because the angle of the sun is too low for enough UVB rays to reach the earth’s surface. Instead, we have to dig into the vitamin D reserves we (hopefully) built over the summer, as well as make sure we eat more vitamin D-rich foods and consider supplements.1
That being said, when the sun is out, we should definitely make the most of it. For the majority of the population it is recommended that you get 10 minutes outdoors in the sun, between 11am and 3pm, with your arms and legs exposed. Don’t just sit by a sunny window (you’re not a house plant!) and the waves needed to stimulate the production of vitamin D can’t pass through glass.
Here’s some tips on how to get more sunlight in your life and support your body’s production on vitamin D:
Sun it up before breakfast
One of the best summer-time feelings is waking up and opening your curtains to be greeted by lovely sunlight. In these instances when the sun is up before you go to work, make the most of it and get outside.
Sit in a sunny corner of your garden with your first cuppa of the day or take the dog for a short stroll around the block. The sunshine on your skin will kick-start your body’s daily Vitamin D production, and as the sun is not so strong, you can spend a little more time basking in it with no sun protection or clothes to cover it up. Still stay cautious of burning though.
If you can get outside during the sunniest part of the day (11am to 3pm), it will be great for your Vitamin D levels as well as your wellbeing – taking a break and getting outside on your lunch break is one of the best things you can do.
Roll up your sleeves to expose your hands and forearms, and go for a short stroll in the full sunshine.
An evening stroll
Have you got time for a short walk before dinner? Wind down after your busy day by going for a walk with your kids, partner or dog and get away from the TV and into the sunlight. It will get your appetite going too, ready for some vitamin-D rich foods!
What food is vitamin D in?
If you get little to no sun, even in the summer, it is recommended that you obtain 400 IUs (10mcg) a day through your diet. You can find vitamin D in foods and drinks, here’s some of the best sources:
Fish and other seafood can be excellent sources of vitamin D, but it’s important to choose the right type. This can be quite difficult as vitamin D levels vary considerably between species, whether the fish is wild or farmed and how you cook it. Read about some of the best vitamin D-rich seafood below.
Oily fish: Fish store large quantities of vitamin D in their liver and fat tissues, making oily / fatty fish a great source of dietary vitamin D. Salmon is one of the best vitamin D sources, containing 668 IU per 100g, on average.2 Wild salmon is particularly rich in vitamin D – in one study, wild salmon had 75% more vitamin D than farmed salmon.13
Tuna: Tins of tuna are convenient, versatile, and cost-effective. They’re also a great source of dietary Vitamin D. Tinned light tuna contains around 236 IU of Vitamin D per 100g. That’s more than half your recommended daily intake.
If you want to push the boat out a little, a wild-caught tuna steak can be even higher in vitamin D – if you’re going to treat yourself with anything, it may as well be with some high-quality vitamin D!
Oysters: They’re not an everyday ingredient, but oysters contain 320 IU of Vitamin D per 100g. So the next time you get to indulge in such a luxury, know you are supporting your body’s levels of vitamin D at the same time.
More fish high in vitamin D:
Top Tip: Bake or steam your fish without added fat e.g. oil and butter, to keep as much vitamin D inside as possible. Vitamin D is fat soluble, so if you fry fish in oil or other fats then some of the vitamin will escape into the cooking oil.
Cod liver oil: Don’t really enjoy eating fish? Choose a quality cod liver oil supplement to get the Vitamin D benefits of oily fish. One teaspoon will give you around 450 IU of Vitamin D, making it a great natural supplement to take all year round.
Remember: Oily fish is rich in vitamin D and other nutrients, but it can also contain contaminants like mercury. In 2004, the UK government advised that girls and women of child-bearing age should limit their oily fish intake to two portions a week.4
Mushrooms are the only plant source of Vitamin D (apart from fortified foods). They can synthesise Vitamin D when they are exposed to UV light, just like we can. Choose wild mushrooms or mushrooms grown in UV light.
Top tip: Slice up some mushrooms and leave them exposed to the sun outside from 10 am – 4pm on a sunny day on 2 separate occasions, e.g. Monday is bright, Tuesday is dull and Wednesday is sunny again, so you’d put the mushrooms out in the sun on Monday and Wednesday. Cook and enjoy! Or, you can dry them thoroughly (e.g. using a food dehydrator) add to a jar with 1 tablespoon of uncooked rice, and store for a later day. Just rehydrate them in water 1 hour before you want to cook with them.5
Tofu isn’t just for vegetarians. It’s a versatile source of dietary Vitamin D which you can use for snacks, lunches, and main meals. There are a few different types you will come across, here’s how to use them:
Silken / Japanese-style tofu: Silky and creamy, this can be used as a thick cream, to make a vegan cheesecake, put in smoothies or even make creamy dips with.
Regular tofu: It’s soft like silken, but a little more compact. This type of tofu soaks up flavours of stocks and sauces – it’s usually used in noodle soups. Try making vegan scrambled eggs with it, just sprinkle in some turmeric and black Himalayan salt.
Firm tofu: Perhaps the most common tofu, firm tofu usually comes soaked in liquid. The texture will be like feta cheese. Before use, dry it before using it by pressing it (placing it on a plate in the sink and putting something heavy on it works too! Then let it soak in a marinade for at least an hour. Finally, pan-fry, stir-fry, deep-fry or bake it in a yummy sauce in the oven.6
Plant-based dairy alternatives
Soya Milk: Most dietary Vitamin D is in animal products. So fortified food sources of vitamin D are particularly useful for vegans and vegetarians. Soya milk contains around 100-120 IU in one cup and lots of protein. Try using it in your morning smoothie or cereal to start your day off right.
Almond Milk: 200ml of almond milk contains around 90 IU of Vitamin D. Check the label of your favourite brand to see how much Vitamin D you’ll get per serving.
Fortified yoghurt: Similar to plant-based milks, vegan yoghurts also know their target market may be lacking in vitamin D in the winter, so a lot of them fortify their products with vitamin D. Try topping it with granola and honey / agave nectar.
Did you know? In the UK, cows’ milk is generally not a good source of vitamin D as it isn’t fortified like it is in other countries. Stick to the plant milks if you want to increase your dietary vitamin D.7
Get some Vitamin D from fortified orange juice which can contain up to 140 IU of Vitamin D per glass.
Fortified breakfast cereal
Some healthy breakfast cereals and instant oats are fortified with Vitamin D. Check the label for the amount per serving.
There are tons of meat substitutes on the market – and some are pretty realistic – adding to their authenticity is the fact they are usually fortified with vitamin D. Real meat can be a bit hit and miss when it comes to vitamin D, with red meat, liver and other offal being the best sources. At least with fortified faux-meat, you know it contains the vitamin D you need.
Try going meat-free for a few of your meals and swap it for fortified plant-based mince, burgers, nuggets, goujons, chunks or even steak! Check the nutritional label to see if has been fortified and tuck in.
Meal ideas using food with vitamin D
Make smart choices at breakfast to increase your Vitamin D. Whole eggs and oily fish are great sources. Scrambled egg or tofu with wild smoked salmon or mushrooms, anyone?
Or choose a breakfast cereal or instant oats brand fortified with Vitamin D3 made with plant milk. Pour yourself a glass of orange juice to have on the side and you have one vitamin-D rich breakfast at your fingertips!
Tinned tuna is a good source of dietary Vitamin D and is a convenient choice for lunch on-the-go. Try it as a topping for a jacket potato, or as part of a healthy salad.
Vegetarian or vegan? Substitute the tuna for a plant-based meat alternative or crispy tofu – mm!
What’s for dinner?
Add some Vitamin D sources to your evening meal. Choosing oily fish like wild salmon and wild-grown mushrooms, both of which are great in a risotto – maybe you could make a creamy sauce with fortified soya milk or plant-based cream to add even more vitamin D to your meal.
Vitamin D supplements
As 1 of 5 of us in the UK have low levels of vitamin D, the NHS recommends that everyone should think about taking a daily vitamin D supplement, especially when we enter the autumn and winter months. Vulnerable groups like people with darker skin, those who cover up due to religious / cultural reasons and the over 65s are advised to take a supplement all year round.
Your daily dose
Finally, take a daily Vitamin D supplement to cover your everyday dose of Vitamins D2 and D3. It’s a cost-effective way to get peace of mind all year round. Here’s our Vitamin D guide to make sure you take the one that’s right for you and your family members.
Last updated: 7 July 2020