Diet and Nutrition

Are Vitamin D-Rich Foods Better than Vitamin D Supplements?

Are Vitamin D-Rich Foods Better than Vitamin D Supplements?

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a unique fat-soluble vitamin that plays a significant role in many aspects of health. Also referred to as the sunshine vitamin, it stands out from other types of vitamins since the body can produce vitamin D through sunlight exposure. With 20-25 minutes of daily sun exposure, you will be able to get your daily dose of vitamin D.

However, there are millions of people around the world who are deficient in this vitamin and are at increased risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. This may be due to spending more time indoors, eating a Western diet that is low in this vitamin, or wearing a sunblock when outside. 

Experts are still in a debate whether vitamin D supplements are beneficial for healthy people. Aside from getting this vitamin from sunlight, consuming foods that are rich in vitamin D is also a great way to fulfill what your body requires and lessen your risk of vitamin D deficiency. 

So what are vitamin D-rich foods and their health benefits? Here's what you need to know.

Top Vitamin D Foods

Vitamin D is available in two forms when it is obtained from food sources:

  • Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3): You can get this form of vitamin D from animal-based foods e.g., fish. Vitamin D3 is also used in multivitamins and other supplements due to its effectiveness when it comes to increasing the serum levels of vitamin D.
  • Ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2): This form of vitamin D is often found in other food sources, such as mushrooms.

Children ages 12 months and below need a minimum of 400 IU/day while older individuals require a daily vitamin D dose of 600 mg/IU. The vitamin D requirement for the elderly is even higher at 800 IU/day. 

Below is a list of food sources that can help meet your daily vitamin D requirement. 

1. Fatty Fish

One of the excellent food sources of vitamin D is fish, particularly those that are high in fat, such as tuna, salmon, cod, and halibut. You can get around 450 IU from a 3-ounce fillet. 

  • 3 ounces of wild-caught salmon: 447 IU 
  • 3 ounces of mackerel: 306 IU 
  • 3 ounces of tuna: 154 IU 
  • 2 sardines: 47 IU 

2. Cod Liver Oil

A tablespoon of cod liver oil has approximately 1,360 IU of vitamin D along with vitamin A and omega-3s. Cod liver oil can be taken as a supplement. It can also help strengthen your immune system. 

3. Fortified Products

  • Dairy: You can get a minimum of 100 IUs of vitamin D from one eight-ounce glass of cow's milk. However, you get a lower or higher amount of vitamin D in a glass of milk depending on how much vitamin D is added. Make sure to check the label of milk products. Almond milk, rice milk, and soy milk can also be fortified.  
  • Orange Juice: To help the body absorb more calcium, fortified orange juice, like milk, have extra vitamin D, which can be around 100 IU for every eight-ounce glass. 
  • Cereal and Oatmeal: There are a variety of fortified cereals and oatmeal with vitamin D. Some may even have more than 300 IUs of vitamin D in every serving to help get your daily vitamin D requirement. 

4. Egg Yolks

For people who cannot eat fish and other seafood, they can get their vitamin D from eggs, particularly from the egg yolks. Most vitamins, minerals, and fat, including vitamin D, are found in the yolk. 

5. Oysters

Oysters are full in nutrients and low in calories. A 100-gram serving of oysters has around 320 IU of vitamin D, 68 calories, and contains more copper, zinc, and vitamin B12 than any multivitamin. 

6. Mushrooms

Aside from fortified products, mushrooms are the only plant-based source of vitamin D. When mushrooms are exposed to light, they produce vitamin D. For this reason, mushrooms that are grown indoors may provide a lesser amount of vitamin D than those that have been exposed to sunlight. A cup of mushrooms can provide approximately 2 IU of vitamin D. 

Health Benefits of Vitamin D

1. Good for bone health

Vitamin D keeps the bones strong and dense. A condition called rickets is characterized by reduced bone mineral density and bone abnormalities due to a severe lack of vitamin D. Even though this condition is rare nowadays, osteoporosis and other bone-related disorders are still common. 

Aside from an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, a deficiency in this vitamin is also associated with low bone density and increased fractures in the elderly. To help reduce your risk of developing these conditions and to keep your bones strong and healthy, get regular sun exposure and consume foods that are high vitamin D. 

To boost bone health, make sure that you also include foods that are rich in magnesium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus in your diet. 

2. Boosts immunity

Certain infections and immune problems may be due to a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is thought to provide protection against infections, such as the cold, and the development of autoimmune problems. 

Vitamin D also helps in the replication of cells and may help prevent chronic inflammation, which is one of the root causes of numerous health issues. According to studies, inflammation may contribute to the development of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, including other inflammatory conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

Studies show that inflammation may play a part in heart disease, diabetes, and cancer along with a wide range of inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease. (1)

3. May help in weight loss management

There are studies that suggest a connection between a lack of vitamin D and obesity. Some studies even say that having enough vitamin D levels in the body may help in weight loss management (2). One study showed that having a high percentage of body fat was associated with low vitamin D in the blood of healthy women (3).

However, more research studies are still required to completely understand the role of vitamin D when it comes to obesity and weight management. 

4. Has anticancer effects

Although there is still limited research on how vitamin D levels influence your risk of developing cancer, some studies have found that a deficiency in this vitamin may be linked to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as colon, breast, and prostate cancer (4). 

Other studies have also described the effects of vitamin D and its role in cancer prevention and treatment (5, 6). Vitamin D is believed to affect the growth of tumor cells and death of cancer cells. 

5. Enhances brain function

Vitamin D may also help improve brain function. According to studies, low vitamin D levels are linked to poor concentration or focus, impaired decision-making, and poor performance on standardized exams (7). 

There are also studies that suggest the association of low vitamin D concentrations and the increased risk of cognitive decline, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia.

The Bottom Line

Adding foods that are rich in vitamin D can help reduce your risk of developing a deficiency in this vitamin. However, it is still recommended to get regular sun exposure along with incorporating vitamin D-rich foods to your daily diet. To make sure that you get the recommended level of vitamin D, supplementation may also be necessary in some cases. 

Consult your healthcare provider if you have a vitamin D deficiency to help determine the best treatment for your condition.