On this page

Sources of vitamin D and vitamin D rich foods

Child in garden carrying blue watering can
On this page

Vitamin D rich foods

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body and keep the muscles, teeth and bones healthy. Not getting enough vitamin D can cause problems with the bones in children and adults.

Though vitamin D occurs naturally in certain foods, we usually get the bulk of ours from sunlight. When UVB rays hit the skin they stimulate the production of vitamin D in the body. The production of vitamin D this way is only possible if you’re outside (UVB rays cannot travel through glass) and you have no sunscreen on your skin.

Outside of the spring and summer months, it can be hard to spend enough time in the sun to create adequate amounts of vitamin D. This is why it’s important to incorporate vitamin D-rich foods into your diet and take supplements.

Vitamin D-rich foods for meat eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians

The best sources of vitamin D are oily fish and eggs. If you don’t eat animal products, please scroll down to read our recommendations for vegans.

Salmon

Fresh salmon is a very good source of vitamin D, and is readily available to buy in supermarkets. It’s thought that farmed salmon contains around 6-13mcg of vitamin D per 100g portion (one small fillet). Wild varieties are likely to contain much more.

Mackerel

According to certain American studies, 100g of fresh mackerel (one small fillet) contains around 16mcg of vitamin D. When eaten smoked (a popular variety often found in UK supermarkets) this number is thought to be around 11mcg.

Tinned tuna

Tinned tuna is a popular staple of the British diet and a cheap and convenient alternative to fresh tuna. Eating tinned tuna in salads or sandwiches is a very easy way to introduce more vitamin D into your diet, as one 100g portion contains around 7mcg.

Herring and sardines

Eating herring fresh or pickled is a good way to get more vitamin D into your diet – although the fresh variety typically contains more (around 5mcg per 100mg). It’s also worth noting that pickled herring contains a lot of salt, so you should be careful not to consume more than your recommended daily intake of sodium.

Sardines are similar to herring, but are usually canned rather than eaten fresh or pickled. A 100g portion of canned sardines offers around 4mcg of vitamin D.

Egg yolks

After oily fish, the best source of vitamin D is egg yolks – particularly when they are taken from free range hens.

Free range hens that have been reared with plenty of access to sunlight and/or with an enriched diet, will lay eggs containing much higher levels of vitamin D. For this reason, it’s worth reading up on your favourite egg brand to find out how their hens are treated.

Vitamin D-rich foods for vegans

If you don’t eat animal products it can be hard to get enough vitamin D into your diet. Most vegans will need to consume products that have been fortified with vitamin D.

Fortified soy milk/rice milk/almond milk

Milk alternatives made from soy, rice, almond and other vegan sources are typically fortified with nutrients, including vitamin D. If you aren’t sure, check the ingredients list before you buy.

Even if you drink cow’s milk, you might consider introducing these kinds of milks into your diet. This is because cow’s milk produced in the UK contains only trace amounts of vitamin D (in some other countries, it’s added).

Mushrooms

It’s believed that mushrooms are the only good plant-based source of vitamin D. This is because they can synthesise the vitamin when exposed to UV light.

Wild mushroom varieties (i.e. those that grow naturally outdoors) will have the highest amounts of vitamin D due to sun exposure. Commercially grown mushrooms may have relatively little, as they are usually grown in the dark.

Fortified cereals

Certain breakfast cereal brands fortify their products with vitamin D to enhance their nutritional value. To find out if your favourite cereal is fortified, simply consult the ingredients list on the box.

Just remember that breakfast cereals are often packed with sugar (even the ones marketed as healthy), so you should try to opt for unsweetened varieties.

Other sources of vitamin D

Vitamin D supplements

One of the best ways to get more vitamin D into your body is to take supplements. You’ll find plenty available in high street pharmacies, supermarkets and health food shops, some of which will be combined with other vitamins and nutrients, such as vitamin C or calcium.

As previously stated, the NHS recommends taking 10mcg per day. However, some people may need to take more, especially if they’re not getting any sunlight or any vitamin D in their diet.

Nu U Vitamin D Max Strength capsules contain 75mcg of vitamin D, making them a good option for people who need more vitamin D.

Cod liver oil

Taking cod liver oil supplements is a great way to round out your diet, as it is packed with nutrients such as vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids. One capsule of cod liver typically contains 2-5mcg of vitamin D. Remember though food supplements are intended to supplement the diet and should not be regarded as a substitute for a varied diet and a healthy lifestyle.

How much vitamin D do I need?

Adults should aim for a daily intake of between 25 and 100 micrograms (incorporating vitamin D from sunlight, food and supplements). The NHS recommends that 100mcg is the upper limit for adults – children should have no more than 50mcg, and infants no more than 25mcg.

It’s not always easy to work out how much vitamin D you’re getting, but as a general rule you shouldn’t need to take supplements of more than 10mcg per day. If you’re getting plenty of sunlight on your skin and eating a balanced diet, you may not need supplements at all. If you’re still unsure speak to one of our pharmacists who will be happy to help find the right dosage for you.

What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?

Symptoms of a deficiency include tiredness, back pain, low mood and frequently getting ill. To find out more about the vitamin D deficiency, read this article.

COVID-19 and vitamin D

The NHS has recently expressed concern about the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, and how this could be contributing to vitamin D deficiency. With people spending far more time inside, and less time in the sun, the NHS has recommended supplementing your diet with 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day.

You can also try incorporating more natural sources of vitamin D into your daily diet.

References

www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/
www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/news-analysis-health-claims-about-vitamin-d-examined/