Need a Vitamin D Boost? Consider These Six Foods While Grocery Shopping

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By Yvette Perrier Quantz, RDN, CSSD, LDN

Eating healthy isn’t always the easiest thing to do. On your way home, there are temptations like chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers and pizza, at every restaurant you pass along the highway. On the other hand, low-fat or low-sodium choices in the grocery store aren’t always the most budget-friendly. At this point, you’re just looking for the quickest, cheapest and healthiest way to satisfy your hunger. Whether you’re eating to maintain weight, lose weight or just feel better overall, you may not always think about your Vitamin D intake, but Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for your health and immune function. Keep reading to discover six foods to add to your next grocery store trip to up your vitamin D levels!

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is both a nutrient you eat and a hormone your body makes. The fat-soluble vitamin is in the family of compounds, including vitamins D1, D2 and D3. Vitamin D is known to help the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus; both are critical for building bone. Also, studies show that vitamin D can reduce cancer cell growth, help control infections and reduce inflammation. This nutrient is needed to maintain healthy teeth and plays a significant role in the body, including regulating inflammation and immune function. Your body produces vitamin D naturally when you’re directly exposed to sunlight (don’t forget to wear sunscreen).

What if I don’t get enough vitamin D? 

At least 42% of adult Americans have low vitamin D levels. If you don’t receive sufficient vitamin D, your bones can become thin, brittle and distorted, contributing to osteoporosis and broken bones. Osteoporosis is a bone disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle, and it is a combination of low bone density and poor bone quality. Weakened bones may break from a fall or, in advanced cases, from sneezing or bumping into an object. When a person has osteoporosis, the holes and spaces in the honeycomb structure of their bones are much larger than in a healthy bone. There are ongoing studies to determine if vitamin D is linked to reducing other medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

People with who get limited sun exposure, have darker skin, are overweight or over 50 are at risk for vitamin D deficiencies. They may experience symptoms like tiredness, aches and pains. A vitamin D deficiency can be diagnosed by a healthcare professional using a simple blood test. Vitamin D deficiencies can cause other complications is they continue for a long time, such as:

  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • Autoimmune problems
  • Infections
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Breast, prostate or colon cancer

What is the recommended amount of vitamin D? 

Your recommended vitamin D intake depends on various factors like:

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Sun exposure

The National Institutes of Health  recommends an average daily intake of 400 to 800 international units or 10 to 20 micrograms to maintain bone health and normal calcium metabolism. Suggested intake amounts are higher, between 1,000 to 4,000 international units, if you don’t receive enough sunlight or your body produces more melanin to maintain optimal blood levels.

What foods can provide me with vitamin D?

You can receive vitamin D from the sun, supplements and certain foods. Here is a list of six foods that will help you obtain an appropriate amount of the “sunshine vitamin.”

  • Cod liver oilCod liver oil is the oil extracted from the livers of Atlantic cod. It can be taken as a dietary supplement and is full of nutrients. This oil is considered one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids and contains high amounts of vitamins D and A. Cod liver oil can help relieve joint stiffness and damage to teeth, nails, hair and skin. Some sources claim that cod liver oil can help relieve joint stiffness and damage to teeth, nails, hair and skin. However, there is currently not enough evidence to prove these claims. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one teaspoon or two capsules of cod liver oil will provide your body with 450 international units.


  • Salmon– A 155-gram fillet has 815 international units of vitamin D. Salmon is a popular fatty fish with a significant amount of vitamin D. Wild-caught salmon has more international units of vitamin D than farmed salmon, but both options deliver great results in terms of vitamin D intake.
  • Tuna fish– Canned tuna is a quick and easy food that will offer you 269 international units of vitamin D in a 3.5-ounce serving. Light canned tuna is also lower in mercury levels compared to bigger fish types. The amount of mercury in canned tuna depends on the type of tuna. If you’re looking to save money, tuna is also less expensive than other fish and can be used in great recipes like tuna white bean salad.
  • Sardines– While some people don’t care for the smell, sardines are another excellent source of vitamin D; a 3.5-ounce serving provides 193 international units.
  • Beef liver– Beef liver has a mild flavor and is more tender than other meats. It offers protein, amino acids and vitamins, including vitamin D. You’ll receive 42 international units per three ounces of the liver. This option may not be suitable for pregnant people or those with gout as beef liver is rich in specific vitamins that may be toxic if too much is ingested. When considering this option, it is recommended in moderation.  If you’ve never heard of beef liver, it is the organ meat from cows.
  • Egg yolks– Eggs are also a great source of vitamin D; the yolk from one large egg contains 37 international units. Selecting eggs from chickens raised outside or considered high in vitamin D can be a great way to meet your daily requirements. Eggs are low-cost, easy to prepare, and can be added to salads, made into omelets or used as an ingredient for a low-carb ice cream alternative.

Other foods containing vitamin D include herring, shrimp, mushrooms and oatmeal, so don’t rely solely on sunlight to receive your daily intake. Vitamin D has many potential benefits and researchers are still discovering others. Adding the sunshine vitamin to your meal plan doesn’t have to break the bank and can be found at your local grocery store or farmer’s market. Supplements are also an option but speak with your healthcare professional before considering them.