In this article, we will explore a variety of vegan foods that are high in vitamin D, providing you with options to incorporate into your diet.
Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels on a vegan diet can pose a challenge. Several foods options that are rich in vitamin D, like salmon, egg yolks, and shellfish, are not suitable for vegans.
Even individuals who are not following a vegan lifestyle may struggle to obtain enough vitamin D. A study revealed that approximately 41.6 percent of Americans may have a deficiency in this essential nutrient.
Why is vitamin D so important?
Due to the presence of vitamin D receptors on numerous cells throughout the human body, this nutrient plays a vital role in regulating numerous essential biological pathways. Understanding your vitamin D levels and their impact on your health is important, whether through an at-home test or routine blood work with your physician.
Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium in the gut and helps maintain proper blood levels of calcium and phosphate, which are crucial for normal bone mineralization, growth, and remodeling. This prevents conditions like osteoporosis, as stated by the National Institutes of Health.
Optimal immune functioning is supported by vitamin D, and several studies, including a research review in Clinical & Experimental Immunology, have linked low levels of vitamin D to an increased risk and severity of respiratory infections.
Research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation reveals that vitamin D helps regulate blood pressure and vascular cell growth. Conversely, vitamin D deficiency is associated with arterial stiffening, elevated cholesterol, and other cardiovascular issues.
According to research published in the journal Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America, maintaining healthy vitamin D levels is linked to lower rates of type 2 diabetes, while low vitamin D levels may contribute to insulin resistance, inflammation, and other factors that increase the risk of diabetes.
The National Institutes of Health suggest that maintaining healthy vitamin D levels may help reduce the risk and spread of various types of cancer, although further research is required to substantiate these claims.
A research review published in Neurology and Therapy associates low levels of vitamin D with multiple sclerosis (MS). Additionally, a Cochrane Review on vitamin D and MS indicates that this disease is less prevalent in areas near the equator, which receive ample sunlight.
Research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry shows that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of depression and poor mood. Lack of sunlight leading to low vitamin D levels is one reason why individuals may experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during darker winter months.
10 Vegan Sources of Vitamin D
Here are some foods that are fortified with vitamin D:
Fortified Soy Milk:
One cup of soy milk fortified with vitamin D contains about 2.9 mcg (116 IU) of vitamin D.
Certain mushrooms, such as those exposed to ultraviolet light during growth, can contain about 450 IU of vitamin D per 100-gram serving. Look for UV-exposed mushrooms or wild mushrooms at local health food stores or farmers’ markets.
Many breakfast cereals and oatmeal brands are fortified with vitamin D. The amount can vary, but most typically contain between 0.2 to 2.5 mcg (8 to 100 IU) per serving.
Fortified Orange Juice:
Some brands of orange juice are fortified with vitamin D and may contain up to 2.5 mcg (100 IU) per serving.
Fortified Almond Milk:
Similar to soy milk, certain brands of almond milk are fortified with vitamin D. Check the label for vitamin D content.
Fortified Plant-Based Yogurts:
Some plant-based yogurts are fortified with vitamin D. Look for brands that mention vitamin D on the packaging.
Fortified Plant-Based Margarine:
Certain plant-based margarine are fortified with vitamin D. Check the label for vitamin D content.
While not a significant source, chia seeds do contain a small amount of vitamin D. About 1 tablespoon provides approximately 1.9 mcg (76 IU).
Hemp seeds also contain a small amount of vitamin D, with approximately 1 tablespoon providing around 1.4 mcg (56 IU).
Vitamin D Supplements:
It’s important to note that while most vegan food sources of vitamin D provide small amounts, it can be challenging to obtain sufficient vitamin D through diet alone. In such cases, vitamin D supplements, particularly vegan-friendly vitamin D2 or vitamin D3 derived from lichen, can be considered.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
If your vitamin D levels are low, you might not initially experience any symptoms, or they might be mild. Here are common signs and symptoms associated with vitamin D deficiency:
- Bone and Muscle Weakness
- Bone Pain and Joint Discomfort
- Fatigue and Tiredness
- Muscle Weakness and Cramps
- Mood Changes
- Impaired Wound Healing
- Hair Loss
- Increased Susceptibility to Infections
By following the aforementioned measures and regularly monitoring your vitamin D levels through blood tests or at-home testing kits, you can effectively maintain your levels within a healthy range. This ensures that your vitamin D levels are neither too low nor too high.
How much vitamin D do I need?
The amount of vitamin D you need can vary depending on various factors. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides recommended daily levels of vitamin D, which are as follows:
- 400 international units (IU) per day for children up to 12 months of age
- 600 IU per day for individuals between 1 and 70 years of age,
- 800 IU per day for individuals over 70 years of age.
These recommendations are meant to ensure adequate vitamin D intake for bone health and immune function.
Vitamin D plays an important role beyond just maintaining bone health, but it can be quite challenging to get enough of it through a strictly vegan diet. Thankfully, there are ways to meet your daily vitamin D requirements. Prioritizing safe sun exposure, incorporating a daily vitamin D supplement, and consuming suitable foods can help you achieve this. By following these steps and regularly monitoring your vitamin D levels, you take a vital stride toward promoting bone health, cardiovascular well-being, optimal immune function, mental health, and more.
Mushrooms stand out as the sole natural plant-based source of vitamin D. They contain a unique compound that, upon exposure to sunlight, undergoes a conversion process, resulting in the formation of vitamin D2. In fact, the FDA has granted approval for the utilization of UV-treated mushrooms as an additive in various food products, effectively enhancing vitamin D intake.
To the best of our knowledge, there are no fruits that naturally contain vitamin D. However, incorporating a variety of fruits into your daily diet offers numerous other health benefits.
If you’re incorporating a Vitamin D supplement into your breakfast, lunch, or dinner routine. It’s beneficial to consume it alongside foods that are rich in healthy fats. Consider including options such as avocado, whole eggs, fatty fish, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, or full-fat dairy in conjunction with your supplement. This combination can enhance the absorption of Vitamin D and optimize its effectiveness in your body.