Vitamin D, also known as sunburn, is a fat-soluble vitamin needed for optimal health. It helps your body absorb calcium and maintain adequate serum magnesium and phosphate concentrations – three nutrients that are important for your teeth, muscles, and bones. It also plays an important role in brain development, heart function, immunity, and mental health.
Low vitamin D levels are widespread worldwide. Symptoms of dementia include fatigue, muscle aches, weak bones, and in children – stagnant growth.
To maintain adequate levels, children under 12 months of age should receive 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D per day, and children 1-113 years of age should receive 600 IU (15 mcg) per day. Adults and pregnant or nursing women should have 600 and 800 IU (15 and 20 mcg) per day, respectively.
However, very few foods contain these vitamins and they are mostly animal products. So, getting enough of this nutrient from your diet can be very difficult, especially if you are a vegetarian or non-vegetarian.
At the same time, a few handfuls of foods and techniques can boost you.
Vitamin D Foods for Vegetarians
Your skin can produce vitamin D when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Most people get at least some vitamin D in this way.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), exposure to sunlight on your face, arms, and legs, or twice a week for 5-30 minutes – without sunscreen – is usually enough to produce optimal vitamin D levels.
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 season, time of day, and degree of contamination or smoke as well as your age, skin color, and sunscreen use also affect your skin’s ability to make adequate vitamin D.
For example, smoking on a cloudy day can reduce the power of UV rays by up to 60%. Also, older adults and skin tones may be exposed to the sun for more than 30 minutes to produce enough vitamin D.
It states that excessive sun exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer. Thus, the American Academy of Dermatology urges people not to rely on the sun as the main source of vitamin D.
Mushrooms have a unique ability to make vitamin D after exposure to UV light. This makes them the only edible plant source of vitamin D.
For example, wild mushrooms and those that are exposed to artificial UV light can boast anywhere between 154 to 1,136 IU (3.8 and 28 mcg) of vitamin D per 3.5 ounces (100-gram) serving.
What’s more, their vitamin D content stays high for the duration of their shelf life and seems to be effective in increasing the levels of this vitamin in your body as a vitamin D supplement.
It is said that most commercial mushrooms grow in the dark and are not exposed to UV light, which means they contain very little vitamin D.
When shopping, look for a note on the label that mentions vitamin D content. If you have trouble finding mushrooms in contact with UV light, your luck may be better at your local health food store or farmers’ market – which often carries wild mushrooms.
Remember that not all wild mushrooms are edible. Eating toxic foods can cause symptoms ranging from mild indigestion to organ failure and even death. As such, you should not eat grass for your own wild mushrooms unless you are skilled and trained.
Egg yolks provide vitamin D, although their specific amounts depend much on the diet of chickens and access to the outdoors.
For example, eggs from vitamin-D-rich feeds fed to chickens can pack up to 20,000,000 IU (150 mcg) in egg yolks, whereas conventional fed hen eggs contain only 18-39 IU (0.4-1 mcg).
Similarly, hens that are allowed to roam outside are exposed to sunlight and usually lay eggs that boast 3-4 times more vitamin D than indoors.
Free-range or organic eggs tend to have more vitamin D which label may also indicate that the eggs are rich in these nutrients.
Cheese is a natural source of vitamin D, albeit in small amounts.
Most varieties contain 8-28 IU (0.2-0.6 mcg) of vitamin D served in 2-2 ounces (50-g). The layers vary depending on the way the cheese is produced.
Fontina, Monterey, and Cheddar cheeses are more proud, while mozzarella is less. Soft drinks like cottage, ricotta, or cream cheese have almost no vitamin D.
It can also be fortified with certain types of vitamin D and will be indicated on the label or ingredient list.
Some foods naturally contain small amounts of vitamin D, but a variety of products are fortified with these nutrients.
Although fortification standards vary by country, some of these foods include:
Cow’s milk: Depending on the country you live in, you can expect a cup (240 ml) of milk to contain 120 IU (3 mcg) of vitamin D.
Nondairy beverages: Milk from plants such as soy, rice, sorghum, oat, or almond milk – orange juice – is often fortified with the same amount of vitamin D as cow’s milk. They can provide 1 cup (240 ml) of 100 IU (2.5 mcg) of vitamin D per cup.
Yogurt: Some dairy and non-dairy yogurt are high in vitamin D, which is about 52 IE per 3.5.s ounces (100 g) of the vitamin. Gives (1.3 mcg).
Tofu: Not all tofus are strong, but those that offer 3.5 ounces (100 g) per 100 ios (2.5 mcg).
Hot and cold cereals: Oatmeal and ready-to-eat cereals are often fortified by vitamin D, providing up to 1/2 cup (120 g) of 120 IU (3 mcg) depending on the variety.
Margarine: Unlike margarine butter, which is not usually preserved with vitamin D, many brands of margarine add this nutrient. One tablespoon (14 g) provides about 20 IU (0.5 mcg).
Because of the inconsistent casting criteria between countries, checking a food ingredient list or nutrient label is the best way to check if it is safe in vitamin D and how much it contains.
If you are worried about not getting enough vitamin D from your diet, supplements can serve as a reliable and consistent source.
These come in two forms:
Vitamin D2: usually extracted from yeast or mushrooms exposed to UV rays
Vitamin D3: usually derived from fish oil or sheep’s wool
Vitamin D3 and D2 seem to be more effective than vitamin D3 and D2 in increasing and maintaining blood levels when taken in doses of 50,000 IU (1,250 mcg) or more.
Nevertheless, the benefits of D3 seem to be much lower than those of D2 when taken in small, daily doses.
By reading the label you can tell what kind of supplement you have. Most lichen-derived D3 supplements add vegan certification.
As vitamin D is fat-soluble, it helps to increase its absorption by playing with fatty foods.
Keep in mind that the reference daily intake (RDI) is 400-800 IU (10-20 mcg) depending on factors like age and pregnancy. It is not recommended to exceed this dose for extended periods of time, as it may cause poisoning.
Symptoms of vitamin D toxicity may include confusion, difficulty concentrating, depression, abdominal pain, nausea, hypertension, hearing loss, psychosis, and in extreme cases – kidney failure and coma.
Is vitamin D suitable for vegetarians?
Vitamin D2 is always suitable for vegans, but vitamin D3 can be derived from an animal source (such as sheep's wool) or lichen (a vegan-friendly source).