Vitamin D Foods: Delicious Recipes to Boost Your Health

Vitamin D foods are essential for maintaining strong bones, a robust immune system, and overall health.

This vital nutrient, often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” can sometimes be challenging to get enough of, especially from sunlight alone.

In this article, we’ll explore a variety of vitamin D foods that you can easily incorporate into your diet.

From hearty fish dishes to dairy, these delicious recipes will help you boost your vitamin D intake and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

Vitamin D Food Chart

The chart below shows a range of popular foods in terms of vitamin D (per serving) vs. vitamin D (per calorie). Foods towards the top provide more vitamin D per calorie, while the foods towards the left provide more vitamin D in the serving sizes we typically eat. 

For more detail, you can explore the interactive Tableau version of this chart, check out the food lists of popular foods below, or download longer lists in our Optimising Nutrition Community here.

Vitamin D Rich Foods (Per Serving)

The popular foods listed below will give you more vitamin D in the typical serving sizes we consume them in. 

  • salmon 
  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • egg (whole)
  • milk (whole)
  • egg yolk
  • pork chops (loin)
  • beef steak
  • liver
  • cream
  • chicken
  • pork fat
  • goat cheese
  • Camembert cheese
  • brie cheese

Vitamin D Rich Foods (Per Calorie)

Foods highest in vitamin D per calorie are listed below.

  • salmon 
  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • milk (whole)
  • egg yolk
  • egg (whole)
  • mushrooms
  • beef liver
  • cream
  • pork chops (loin)
  • pork fat
  • beef steak
  • chia pudding
  • lamb liver
  • chicken drumstick
  • feta cheese
  • Camembert cheese
  • brie cheese
  • blue cheese
  • cheddar cheese

Vitamin D-Rich Recipes

The chart below shows our 1750 NutriBooster recipes, which we use in the Micros Masterclass, plotted in terms of vitamin D vs. nutrient density. Recipes towards the right will help you boost your vitamin D with fewer calories.   

vitamin D rich recipes chart

To dive into the details, you can open the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer).  Then, click on each recipe to learn more about it and view a picture of the recipe. 

A selection of NutriBooster recipes that contain the most vitamin D is shown below. 

vitamin D packed recipes

Why is Vitamin D Important? 

One of the most significant functions of vitamin D is to help the body absorb calcium and maintain healthy bones.  It also plays a crucial role in maintaining proper immune function, regulating mood and preventing depression, and reducing inflammation.

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a range of health problems, including osteoporosis, rickets, and a weakened immune system.  Additionally, research has suggested that low vitamin D levels may increase the risk of several chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

Our bodies can produce vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight, but many people do not get enough vitamin D through sun exposure alone, especially during the winter months.  

Rather than micromanaging your dietary vitamin D, we highly recommend going for a walk with your dog, friend, or loved one in the morning or afternoon sun! 

Roles of Vitamin D in the Body

Adequate vitamin D is critical to maintaining strong bones because it facilitates the absorption of both calcium and phosphorus in the GI tract.  Vitamin D also:

Vitamin D in its cholecalciferol form is synthesised when UVB rays from sunlight react with cholesterol in the skin.  From here, the liver and kidneys work together to convert it to its bioactive form.

While supplementation may be necessary for someone living far from the equator, adequate sun exposure is ideal for maintaining healthy vitamin D levels in the blood.

Similarly, someone who spends a lot of time indoors from their job or school may also make less vitamin D.  Low vitamin D levels are associated with skin cancer.  While it may seem counterintuitive, this nutrient level is also reduced when recommended to limit sun exposure.

On the other hand, excessive vitamin D supplementation can cause the body to absorb too much calcium.  As a result, it can end up in places it doesn’t belong, like your arteries, contributing to heart disease. 

Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency

Lower intakes of vitamin D are associated with:

  • low calcium levels,
  • depression,
  • fatigue,
  • anxiety,
  • loss of appetite,
  • nausea,
  • cramps,
  • fatigue,
  • immune disorders like cancer or autoimmunity,
  • low immunity,
  • histamine intolerance,
  • inflammation,
  • fibromyalgia,
  • joint pain,
  • impaired wound healing,
  • hair loss,
  • diarrhea,
  • thyroid disorders,
  • insomnia,
  • nervousness,
  • stunted growth, and
  • softening of the bones and teeth.

It’s important to consider that insufficient intake also affects the body’s phosphorus and calcium levels.

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

The Adequate Intake level of vitamin D of 10 micrograms per day for adults under 50 is based on the amount of dietary vitamin D required to maintain healthy blood levels of this nutrient without significant sunlight exposure. 

However, it is tough to construct a nutrient-dense diet that meets the Adequate Intake of vitamin D from food alone.  Vitamin D supplements are typically not as effective as dietary intake or sun exposure, potentially because vitamin D is so tightly related to calcium and phosphorus intake.  Vitamin D supplementation also requires sulphation, which can be compromised in some people.

The Upper Limit for vitamin D is set at 80 micrograms (4,000 IU) per day for adults and 25 micrograms (1,000 IU) in infants due to the danger of excess calcium absorption (hypercalcemia).  So, the best way to determine the correct vitamin D dose for you is to monitor your blood tests and titrate your supplementation, food, and sun exposure accordingly. 

Vitamin D Toxicity and Overdose

Vitamin D toxicity is known as hypervitaminosis D. This condition does not result from sun exposure but from consuming excessive amounts of vitamin D supplements.  Hypercalcemia has been observed in people supplementing high doses of vitamin D exceeding 50,000 IU per day. 

Vitamin D toxicity is unlikely in healthy people if consumption is less than 10,000 IU/day.  However, the official Upper Limit for Vitamin D has been set at 4,000 IU per day

Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, it takes longer for the body to metabolise and excrete.  Supplementing less than 10,000 IU/day can still result in toxicity for someone with a compromised liver.  For this reason, it’s best to monitor your levels closely if supplementing.

Optimal Calcium:Phosphorus Ratio

You can’t just take Vitamin D in isolation and expect it to work optimally.  For vitamin D to do its job correctly, you must also get enough calcium and phosphorus

Ideally, you want a calcium: phosphorus ratio greater than 1:1.3Nutrient Optimiser will ensure that you are not prioritising phosphorus if your calcium: phosphorus ratio is above optimal. 

Can I Get Enough Vitamin D from Food Alone? 

While foods can provide small amounts of vitamin D, it’s not enough to be considered sufficient.  The bottom line is that it’s good to get some sun on your skin regularly while ensuring you don’t burn.

You can use the D Minder app to determine how much sun you need based on your location, time of day, amount of clothes you are wearing, and skin colour.

Adequate sun exposure is also critical to good sleep and setting your circadian rhythm in an environment where many spend their days and nights under artificial light looking at screens. 

Bioavailability

Plants make Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), while animals synthesise D3.  Vitamin D3 is considered the more active and bioavailable form of vitamin D. Foods containing D3 are animal foods, whereas foods containing D2 are from plants.

If you’re eating vitamin D-containing foods, getting sunlight, and supplementing regularly, then either form is acceptable.  This will ensure you’re getting some form of the more active D3.  However, if you are not supplementing regularly, D3 is better because it stays in circulation for longer and is more bioactive. 

Synergistic Nutrients with Vitamin D

Vitamin D works synergistically with vitamins A, B3, K, boron, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, sodium, and calcium.  This means vitamin D requires all of these nutrients to do its job.  For this reason, we recommend getting vitamin D3 from sunlight and consuming nutrient-dense foods to ensure you’re getting enough of other necessary vitamins and minerals.

Processing Losses

Given that vitamin D is synthesised from sunlight, it’s ironic that vitamin D in food is unstable in the presence of light.  It is also relatively unstable when exposed to more acidic conditions.  Vitamin D is moderately heat stable, with around 39-45% retained during cooking.

How Can I Calculate if I am Getting Enough Vitamin D? 

If you’re interested in determining if you’re getting the right amount of vitamin D in your diet, you can check your nutrient profile using our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge

After a week of tracking your current diet in Cronometer, Nutrient Optimiser will give you a prioritised list of foods and NutriBooster recipes that will help you plug your current nutritional gaps, including selenium. 

Nutrient Density Starter Pack

We’re eager to make the process of Nutritional Optimisation as simple as possible.  So, to help you increase your intake of all the essential nutrients, including vitamin D, when you join our free Optimising Nutrition Community, you’ll get a starter pack that includes:

Nutrient Series

Minerals

Vitamins

Fatty acids