Are you getting enough Vitamin D every day? In fact, thinking about it, how much is ‘enough?’
Before we delve deeper into the ins and outs of Vitamin D, let’s spend a minute or two focusing on what it is, the main sources of Vitamin D and what it does to our body.
What is Vitamin D and what does it do?
Vitamin D is the vitamin that is responsible for helping to regulate how much calcium and phosphate we have in our body.
It is these nutrients that make sure our bones, teeth and muscles stay nice and healthy.
Our bodies are fully capable of making enough vitamin D to keep us healthy but it is our lifestyles that sometimes cause us to fall short.
In fact, it is thought that as many as 1 in 5 people in the UK have a vitamin D deficiency.
How much Vitamin D do I need?
According to the NHS guidance:
- Babies up to the age of 1 year – need 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day.
- Children from the age of one – need 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day. This includes pregnant and breastfeeding women and people at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
- Adults – need 10 micrograms every day if they are not often outdoors, live in a care home, have dark skin or fully cover up when they are in the sun.1
Ideally, if you are at risk of having low Vitamin D levels, you should consider taking a Vitamin D supplement all-year round. This also applies to children from the age of one to four.2
How can I boost my Vitamin D levels?
We tend to get most of our Vitamin D from the sun.
However, because it is not permanently sunny all-year round in the UK, and because not all of us spend lots of time outside in the sun, it is easy for us not to have enough of it in our system.
Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because our bodies can actually make and absorb Vitamin D from sun exposure.
How long do I need to spend in the sun to get enough vitamin D?
Spending between five and 30 minutes in the sun from 10am and 3pm twice a week on the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen is usually enough to help boost our intake.3
Uncover your forearms, lower legs, hands and face. Sitting by a sunny window or in a car sadly does not count, because the glass will block the UVB rays.
Most people in the UK are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency during winter months, even if they get outside every day. It can therefore make sense to take a daily Vitamin D3 supplement to keep your levels topped up.
The best way to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D is by making sure we benefit from several sources, primarily:
- The sun
- Vitamin D supplements4
Which food contains Vitamin D?
The main food sources of Vitamin D are oily fish (think salmon, herring, sardines and canned tuna), red meat, liver, egg yolk and fortified foods, e.g. fat spreads and breakfast cereal.5
Fish and seafood
Fish and other seafood can be excellent sources of vitamin D, but it is 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.
Oily fish: Fish store large quantities of vitamin D in their liver and fat tissues, making oily or 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.6 Wild salmon is particularly rich in vitamin D – in one study, wild salmon had 75% more vitamin D than farmed salmon.7
Tuna: Tins of tuna are convenient, versatile, and cost-effective. They are also a great source of dietary Vitamin D. Tinned light tuna contains around 236 IU of Vitamin D per 100g. That is 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 are going to treat yourself with anything, it may as well be with some high-quality vitamin D!
Oysters: Ok so oysters are not an everyday ingredient, but did you know that they 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 such as 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.8
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.9
Tofu is not just for vegetarians and vegans! It is a highly 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, so here is our advice about how to best 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 is soft like silken, but a little more compact. This type of tofu soaks up flavours of stocks and sauces – it is 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.10
Plant-based dairy alternatives
Soya Milk: Most dietary Vitamin D is found 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 will get per serving.
Fortified vegan 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 or agave nectar.
Did you know? In the UK, cows’ milk is generally not a good source of vitamin D as it is not fortified like it is in other countries. Stick to the plant milks if you want to increase your dietary vitamin D.11
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.
- Vitamin D can be sourced via a number of different foods, including fish, seafood and red meat
- Non meat alternatives include tofu, mushrooms, orange juice and fortified vegetarian and vegan products
Meal ideas using food rich in 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 – mmm!
What’s for dinner?
Add some Vitamin D sources to your evening meal. Choosing oily fish such as 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?
Taking a vitamin D supplement
As well as upping your Vitamin D food sources, it is also possible to boost your levels by taking vitamin D supplements.
There’s a wide range of supplements out there, such as tablets, caplets, drops for babies and children, sprays and chewable tablets.
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 is right for you and your family members.
Vegan sources of Vitamin D
While there are few Vitamin D sources in food, the good news is, some of these sources are vegan. For instance, 1 cup of almond milk will give you 100mg of Vitamin D, orange juice, 100mg and 1 cup of portobello mushrooms, 634mg.
Other vegan sources of Vitamin D in food, include Maitake mushrooms, soy milk, soy yoghurt and ready-to-eat cereal.12
Vitamin D surprising facts
Here are a few things you might not have known about Vitamin D, until now:
- You are more likely to get less of it if you live in a city, which is built up and where pollution levels are higher, or if you work in an office or on night shifts13
- In the UK, one in five people have low Vitamin D levels14
- Most people do not realise they have a Vitamin D deficiency15
- During the autumn and winter, you need to get vitamin D from your diet because the sun is not strong enough for our bodies to make it16
- The ultraviolet B that is in sunlight and enables our body to generate Vitamin D does not penetrate glass, so you need to go outside to get your UV-Vitamin D hit17
Last updated: 11 January 2021
Author: Donia Hilal