The Best Natural Sources of Vitamin D

Long recognized for its key role in calcium homeostasis, vitamin D is an essential nutrient for maintaining healthy bone density.
But in recent years, the diverse functions of this vitamin have developed into a notoriously hot topic in the research community.
While our understanding is constantly evolving, studies have suggested that our levels of Vitamin D could potentially affect our risk of developing cancer , heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and a number of other chronic conditions.
Due to these recent advances, recommendations for vitamin D intake are controversial.
When dietary guidelines for vitamin D were originally developed, they were designed to prevent the symptoms of extreme vitamin D deficiency – rickets in childhood, and softening of the bones in adults.
While the intake needed to avoid these complications is fairly low, researchers are now arguing that higher levels of vitamin D are required for optimal health.
For healthy adults up to 70 years of age, the Institute of Medicine currently recommends 600 IU as the recommended daily allowance.
It’s also important to note that people with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) or those who have undergone gastric bypass surgery have diminished ability to absorb vitamin D, and therefore have elevated requirements.

Although vitamin D supplements are increasing in popularity, it’s also possible to get your recommended IUs through natural sources.

And luckily for followers of the paleo diet, most of the best sources are caveman-approved!

Sun Exposure

Sun as a Source of Vitamin D

Simple, cheap and effective: good old-fashioned sunshine. Sunlight’s UVB rays react with cholesterol-based compounds in our skin to conveniently yield a reliable source of vitamin D.
But modern life keeps us stuck indoors more than ever , and because of regional differences in UV index and individual variation in skin pigmentation, it’s hard to say exactly how much sun will meet your needs.


The fungal kingdom offers a wealth of nutrition, and one of its most unique benefits is vitamin D – it’s the only non-animal food that can provide a significant source of this nutrient.
In a mechanism similar to our own, mushrooms are able to generate their own vitamin D when exposed to UV light.
When shopping the produce section, look for mushrooms that are advertised to include UV light as part of their growing process – depending on the length of exposure, they can contain several hundred IUs per serving.

Fatty Fish

All of the same cold-water fatty fish touted for their omega-3 content – including salmon, sardines, and mackerel – range from 200-500 IU of vitamin D per serving, making them a potent source.
If you prefer tuna salad, opt for canned light tuna – it contains about 150 IU per can, which is 3 times the vitamin D found in albacore tuna, and with lower mercury levels to boot.

Whole Eggs


They don’t provide enough to exclusively meet your needs, but if you’re looking for another reason to choose delicious, nutritious whole eggs over egg whites: each yolk contains about 18 IU of vitamin D. ( Try Sweet Potato and Kale Egg Bake )

Cod Liver Oil

If you have a hard time working the other foods into your diet but still don’t want to settle for synthetic vitamins, you may want to try cod liver oil.
It’s available in liquid of capsule form, and can provide about 450 IU of vitamin D in just a teaspoon.

Mary Parsons is a registered dietitian who writes about food and nutrition at . She is passionate about communicating the science of nutrition, and showing people how delicious healthy food can be. You can also find her on Facebook

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