Most of us get the vitamin D we need from our exposure to sunlight, but when the days are short and the temperature is low, we may not be able to absorb enough from this source. This can lead to a deficiency, which can cause major health problems.
The good news is that many foods are rich in vitamin D, including fish, eggs and cheese. For those who follow a vegetarian diet, there are still plenty of options for getting this nutrient into your diet. Here’s a look at some delicious ways to get more vitamin D in your diet today!
food with vitamin d vegetarian
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for optimal health.
It helps your body absorb calcium and maintain adequate serum magnesium and phosphate concentrations — three nutrients important for your teeth, muscles, and bones. It also plays crucial roles in brain development, heart function, your immune system, and mental health.
Low vitamin D levels are widespread worldwide. Symptoms of deficiency include fatigue, muscle pain, weak bones, and — in children — stunted growth (1Trusted Source, 2).
To maintain adequate levels, children under 12 months should get 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D daily, while children 1–13 years old should get 600 IU (15 mcg) daily. Adults and pregnant or nursing women should aim for 600 and 800 IU (15 and 20 mcg) per day, respectively (2).
Yet, very few foods contain this vitamin, and those that do are mostly animal products. Thus, it can be difficult to get enough of this nutrient from your diet, particularly if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
At the same time, a handful of foods and techniques can give you a boost.
Here are 6 good sources of vitamin D for vegetarians — some of which are suitable for vegans, too.
Your skin can produce vitamin D when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Most people get at least some of their vitamin D this way.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), exposing your face, arms, legs, or back to sunlight for 5–30 minutes twice a week — without sunscreen — is usually sufficient to generate optimal vitamin D levels (3Trusted Source).
However, depending on your geographical location or climate, it may not be practical to achieve this degree of direct sun exposure.
Additional factors, such as the season, time of day, and degree of pollution or smog, as well as your age, skin color, and sunscreen use, also affect your skin’s ability to produce enough vitamin D (2).
For instance, smog or an overcast day may reduce the strength of UV rays by up to 60%. Moreover, older adults and those with darker skin tones may require significantly longer than 30 minutes of sun exposure to produce sufficient vitamin D (3Trusted Source).
That said, excess sun exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer. Hence, the American Academy of Dermatology urges people not to rely on the sun as their main source of vitamin D (4Trusted Source).
Your skin produces vitamin D following direct exposure to the sun. However, several factors can reduce your body’s vitamin D generation, and excess sun exposure isn’t recommended, as it may raise your risk of skin cancer.
- Certain mushrooms
Mushrooms have the unique ability to make vitamin D when exposed to UV light. This makes them the only edible plant source of vitamin D (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source).
For instance, wild mushrooms and those artificially exposed to UV light may boast anywhere between 154 and 1,136 IU (3.8 and 28 mcg) of vitamin D per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving (8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).
What’s more, their vitamin D content remains high for the duration of their shelf life and appears to be as effective at raising levels of this vitamin in your body as vitamin D supplements (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
That said, most commercial mushrooms are grown in the dark and aren’t exposed to UV light, which means that they likely contain very little vitamin D (14Trusted Source).
When shopping, look for a note on the label mentioning vitamin D content. If you’re having trouble finding mushrooms exposed to UV light, you may have better luck at your local health food store or farmers market — which often carry wild mushrooms.
Keep in mind that not all wild mushrooms are edible. Eating poisonous ones can cause symptoms ranging from mild indigestion to organ failure and even death. As such, you shouldn’t forage for your own wild mushrooms unless you’re expertly trained (15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source).
UV-exposed mushrooms contain varying levels of vitamin D and appear to be as effective at raising vitamin D levels as supplements. However, most conventionally grown mushrooms aren’t exposed to UV rays and harbor very little of this vitamin.
- Egg yolks
Egg yolks provide vitamin D, though their specific amounts rely greatly on the chicken’s diet and access to the outdoors.
For instance, eggs sourced from chickens fed vitamin-D-enriched feed can pack up to 6,000 IU (150 mcg) per yolk, whereas eggs from chickens given conventional feed contain only 18–39 IU (0.4–1 mcg) (17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source).
Similarly, chickens allowed to roam outdoors are exposed to sunlight and typically lay eggs that boast 3–4 times more vitamin D than those of chickens raised indoors (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).
Free-range or organic eggs tend to have more vitamin D. The label may also indicate that the eggs are enriched with this nutrient.
Egg yolks can provide significant amounts of vitamin D, especially if the eggs are sourced from chicken given enriched feed or allowed to roam outdoors.
Cheese is a natural source of vitamin D, albeit in very small amounts.
Most varieties contain 8–24 IU (0.2–0.6 mcg) of vitamin D per 2-ounce (50-gram) serving. Levels vary based on the way the cheese is manufactured.
Fontina, Monterey, and Cheddar cheeses boast more, while mozzarella has less. Soft types like cottage, ricotta, or cream cheeses offer almost no vitamin D (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source).
Some kinds can also be fortified with vitamin D, and this will be indicated on the label or ingredient list.
Cheese is a natural source of vitamin D, albeit in very small amounts. Cheddar, Fontina, and Monterey boast a little more.
- Fortified foods
Although some foods naturally contain small amounts of vitamin D, a variety of products are fortified with this nutrient. Although fortification standards vary by country, a few of these foods include:
Cow’s milk. Depending on the country you live in, you can expect 1 cup (240 ml) of milk to contain up to 120 IU (3 mcg) of vitamin D (24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).
Nondairy beverages. Plant milks like soy, rice, hemp, oat, or almond milk — plus orange juice — are often fortified with similar amounts of vitamin D as cow’s milk. They may provide up to 100 IU (2.5 mcg) of vitamin D per 1 cup (240 ml) (26Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source, 29Trusted Source).
Yogurt. Some dairy and nondairy yogurts are fortified in vitamin D, giving around 52 IU (1.3 mcg) of this vitamin per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
Tofu. Not all tofus are fortified, but those that are offer around 100 IU (2.5 mcg) per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).
Hot and cold cereals. Oatmeal and ready-to-eat cereals are often fortified with vitamin D, with 1/2 cup (120 grams) providing up to 120 IU (3 mcg), depending on the variety (32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source).
Margarine. Unlike butter, which is not typically fortified with vitamin D, many brands of margarine add this nutrient. One tablespoon (14 grams) usually provides around 20 IU (0.5 mcg) (35Trusted Source).
Due to inconsistent fortification standards between countries, checking a food’s ingredient list or nutrition label remain the best way to verify whether it’s fortified in vitamin D and how much it contains.
Numerous common foods and beverages, including dairy and nondairy milks, as well as some cereals, are fortified with vitamin D. Because standards vary between countries, it’s best to read the label carefully.
If you’re concerned you may not be getting enough vitamin D from your diet, supplements can act as a reliable and consistent source. These come in two forms (36Trusted Source):
Vitamin D2: typically harvested from yeast or mushrooms exposed to UV rays
Vitamin D3: usually derived from fish oil or sheep’s wool, with vegan forms more recently developed from lichen
When taken in large doses of 50,000 IU (1,250 mcg) or more, vitamin D3 appears to be more effective at raising and maintaining high blood levels of vitamin D than D2.
Yet, when taken in smaller, daily doses, the advantage of D3 over D2 appears to be much smaller (36Trusted Source).
You can tell which type your supplement contains by reading the label. Most lichen-derived D3 supplements also add vegan certification.
Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, eating it with fatty foods may help increase its absorption (37Trusted Source).
Keep in mind that the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) is 400–800 IU (10–20 mcg), depending on factors like age and pregnancy. Exceeding this dosage for extended periods is not recommended, as it may cause toxicity (38Trusted Source).
Symptoms of vitamin D toxicity may include confusion, difficulty concentrating, depression, abdominal pain, vomiting, high blood pressure, hearing loss, psychosis, and —in extreme cases — kidney failure and coma (38Trusted Source).
Supplements are a reliable and consistent source of vitamin D. They’re best consumed in combination with fatty foods and shouldn’t be taken in amounts exceeding the RDI for extended periods.
The bottom line
Although vitamin D plays several crucial roles in your body, few foods naturally contain it — and vegetarian or vegan sources are especially sparse.
Spending time in the sunshine is a great way to boost your levels, but this isn’t possible for everyone.
As such, you can try foods like wild mushrooms, egg yolks, or items enriched with vitamin D. Supplements are another option.
If you’re concerned that you may have low levels of this vitamin, speak with your healthcare provider.
vitamin d foods list
Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body.
These nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children, and bone pain caused by a condition called osteomalacia in adults.
Government advice is that everyone should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter.
People at high risk of not getting enough vitamin D, all children aged 1 to 4, and all babies (unless they’re having more than 500ml of infant formula a day) should take a daily supplement throughout the year.Information:
There have been some reports about vitamin D reducing the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19). But there is currently not enough evidence to support taking vitamin D solely to prevent or treat COVID-19.
Good sources of vitamin D
From about late March/early April to the end of September, most people should be able to make all the vitamin D they need from sunlight.
The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors.
But between October and early March we do not make enough vitamin D from sunlight. Read more about vitamin D and sunlight.
Vitamin D is also found in a small number of foods.
- oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
- red meat
- egg yolks
- fortified foods – such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals
Another source of vitamin D is dietary supplements.
In the UK, cows’ milk is generally not a good source of vitamin D because it is not fortified, as it is in some other countries.
How much vitamin D do I need?
From about late March/early April to the end of September, the majority of people should be able to make all the vitamin D they need from sunlight on their skin.
Children from the age of 1 year and adults need 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day. This includes pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Babies up to the age of 1 year need 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day.
A microgram is 1,000 times smaller than a milligram (mg). The word microgram is sometimes written with the Greek symbol μ followed by the letter g (μg).
Sometimes the amount of vitamin D is expressed as International Units (IU). 1 microgram of vitamin D is equal to 40 IU. So 10 micrograms of vitamin D is equal to 400 IU.
Should I take a vitamin D supplement?
Advice for adults and children over 4 years old
During the autumn and winter, you need to get vitamin D from your diet because the sun is not strong enough for the body to make vitamin D.
But since it’s difficult for people to get enough vitamin D from food alone, everyone (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter.
Between late March/early April to the end of September, most people can make all the vitamin D they need through sunlight on their skin and from a balanced diet.
You may choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.
People at risk of vitamin D deficiency
Some people will not make enough vitamin D from sunlight because they have very little or no sunshine exposure.
The Department of Health and Social Care recommends that adults and children over 4 take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year if they:
- are not often outdoors – for example, if they’re frail or housebound
- are in an institution like a care home
- usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors
If you have dark skin – for example you have an African, African-Caribbean or south Asian background – you may also not make enough vitamin D from sunlight.
You should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year.
Advice for infants and young children
The Department of Health and Social Care recommends that babies from birth to 1 year of age should have a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year if they are:
- formula-fed and are having less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, as infant formula is already fortified with vitamin D
Children aged 1 to 4 years old should be given a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year.
You can buy vitamin D supplements or vitamin drops containing vitamin D (for under 5s) at most pharmacies and supermarkets.
Women and children who qualify for the Healthy Start scheme can get free supplements containing vitamin D.
What happens if I take too much vitamin D?
Taking too many vitamin D supplements over a long period of time can cause too much calcium to build up in the body (hypercalcaemia). This can weaken the bones and damage the kidneys and the heart.
If you choose to take vitamin D supplements, 10 micrograms a day will be enough for most people.
Do not take more than 100 micrograms (4,000 IU) of vitamin D a day as it could be harmful. This applies to adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly, and children aged 11 to 17 years.
Children aged 1 to 10 years should not have more than 50 micrograms (2,000 IU) a day. Infants under 12 months should not have more than 25 micrograms (1,000 IU) a day.
Some people have medical conditions that mean they may not be able to safely take as much. If in doubt, you should consult your doctor.
If your doctor has recommended you take a different amount of vitamin D, you should follow their advice.
You cannot overdose on vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. But always remember to cover up or protect your skin if you’re out in the sun for long periods to reduce the risk of skin damage and skin cancer.