Vitamin D is the only nutrient your body produces when exposed to sunlight.
However, up to 50% of the world's population may not get enough sun, and 40% of US residents are deficient in vitamin D (, ).
This is partly because people spend more time indoors, wear sunblock outside and eat a Western diet low in good sources of this vitamin.
The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) is 600 IU of vitamin D per day from foods ().
If you don't get enough sunlight, your intake should likely be closer to 1,000 IU per day ().
Here are 9 healthy foods that are high in vitamin D.
Salmon is a popular fatty fish and a great source of vitamin D.
According to the USDA Food Composition Database, one 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of salmon contains between 361 and 685 IU of vitamin D ().
However, it’s usually not specified whether the salmon was wild or farmed. This may not seem important, but it can make a big difference.
On average, wild-caught salmon packs 988 IU of vitamin D per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, or 165% of the RDI. Some studies have found even higher levels in wild salmon — up to 1,300 IU per serving (, ).
However, farmed salmon contains only 25% of that amount. Still, a serving of farmed salmon provides about 250 IU of vitamin D, or 42% of the RDI ().
Summary Wild salmon contains about 988 IU of vitamin D per serving, while farmed salmon contains 250 IU, on average. That’s 165% and 42% of the RDI, respectively.
Herring is a fish eaten around the world. It can be served raw, canned, smoked or pickled.
This small fish is also one of the best sources of vitamin D.
Fresh Atlantic herring provides 1,628 IU per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, which is nearly three times the RDI ().
If fresh fish isn't your thing, pickled herring is also a great source of vitamin D, providing 680 IU per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, or 113% of the RDI.
However, pickled herring also contains a high amount of sodium, which some people consume too much of ().
Sardines are a good source of vitamin D as well — one serving contains 272 IU, or 45% of the RDI ().
Other types of fatty fish are also good vitamin D sources. Halibut and mackerel provide 600 and 360 IU per serving, respectively (, ).
Summary Herring contains 1,628 IU of vitamin D per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving. Pickled herring, sardines and other fatty fish, such as halibut and mackerel, are also good sources.
Cod liver oil is a popular supplement. If you don't like fish, taking cod liver oil can be key to obtaining certain nutrients unavailable in other sources.
It’s an excellent source of vitamin D — at about 450 IU per teaspoon (4.9 ml), it clocks in at a massive 75% of the RDI. It's been used for many years to prevent and treat deficiency in children (, ).
Cod liver oil is also a fantastic source of vitamin A, with 90% of the RDI in just one teaspoon (4.9 ml). However, vitamin A can be toxic in high amounts.
Therefore, be cautious with cod liver oil, making sure to not take too much.
In addition, cod liver oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, in which many people are deficient.
Summary Cod liver oil contains 450 IU of vitamin D per teaspoon (4.9 ml), or 75% of the RDI. It is also high in other nutrients, such as vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids.
Many people enjoy canned tuna because of its flavor and easy storage methods.
It’s also usually cheaper than buying fresh fish.
Canned light tuna packs up to 236 IU of vitamin D in a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving, which is nearly half of the RDI.
It’s also a good source of niacin and vitamin K ().
Unfortunately, canned tuna contains methylmercury, a toxin found in many types of fish. If it builds up in your body, it can cause serious health problems ().
However, some types of fish pose less risk than others. For instance, light tuna is typically a better choice than white tuna — it's considered safe to eat up to 6 ounces (170 grams) per week ().
Summary Canned tuna contains 236 IU of vitamin D per serving. Choose light tuna and eat 6 ounces (170 grams) or less per week to prevent methylmercury buildup.
Oysters are a type of clam that lives in saltwater. They’re delicious, low in calories and full of nutrients.
One 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of wild oysters has only 68 calories but contains 320 IU of vitamin D — over half the RDI ().
In addition, one serving packs 2–6 times the RDI for vitamin B12, copper and zinc — far more than multivitamins.
Summary Oysters are full of nutrients and provide 53% of the RDI for vitamin D. They also contain more vitamin B12, copper and zinc than a multivitamin.
Shrimp is a popular type of shellfish.
Yet unlike most other seafood sources of vitamin D, shrimp are very low in fat.
However, they still contain a good amount of vitamin D — 152 IU per serving, or 25% of the RDI ().
They also contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, although at lower amounts than many other foods rich in vitamin D.
Shrimp also pack about 152 mg of cholesterol per serving, which is a significant amount. Yet, this should not be a cause for concern.
No strong evidence supports the idea that dietary cholesterol intake increases heart disease risk ().
Even the US Department of Health and Human Services has removed its upper limit for cholesterol intake, stating that overconsumption of cholesterol is not an issue (, , ).
Summary Shrimp provide 152 IU of vitamin D per serving and are also very low in fat. They do contain cholesterol, but this is not a cause for concern.
People who don't eat fish should know that seafood is not the only source of vitamin D. Whole eggs are another good source, as well as a wonderfully nutritious food.
While most of the protein in an egg is found in the white, the fat, vitamins and minerals are found mostly in the yolk.
One typical egg yolk from chickens raised indoors contains 18–39 IU of vitamin D, which isn't very high (, ).
However, pasture-raised chickens that roam outside in the sunlight produce eggs with levels 3–4 times higher ().
Additionally, eggs from chickens given vitamin D-enriched feed have up to 6,000 IU of vitamin D per yolk. That’s a whopping 10 times the RDI ().
Choosing eggs either from chickens raised outside or marketed as high in vitamin D can be a great way to meet your daily requirements.
Summary Eggs from commercially raised hens contain only about 30 IU of vitamin D per yolk. However, eggs from hens raised outside or fed vitamin D-enriched feed contain much higher levels.
Excluding fortified foods, mushrooms are the only plant source of vitamin D.
Like humans, mushrooms can synthesize this vitamin when exposed to UV light ().
However, mushrooms produce vitamin D2, whereas animals produce vitamin D3.
Though vitamin D2 helps raise blood levels of vitamin D, it may not be as effective as vitamin D3 (, ).
Nonetheless, wild mushrooms are excellent sources of vitamin D2. In fact, some varieties pack up to 2,300 IU per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving — nearly four times the RDI ().
On the other hand, commercially grown mushrooms are often grown in the dark and contain very little D2.
However, certain brands are treated with UV light. These mushrooms can provide anywhere from 130–450 IU of vitamin D2 per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) ().
Summary Mushrooms can synthesize vitamin D2 when exposed to UV light. Only wild mushrooms or mushrooms treated with UV light are good sources of vitamin D.
Natural sources of vitamin D are limited, especially if you're vegetarian or don't like fish.
Fortunately, some food products that don't naturally contain vitamin D are fortified with this nutrient.
Cow's milk, the type of milk that most people drink, is naturally a good source of many nutrients including calcium, phosphorous and riboflavin ().
In several countries, cow's milk is fortified with vitamin D. It usually contains about 130 IU per cup (237 ml), or about 22% of the RDI (, ).
Because vitamin D is found almost exclusively in animal products, vegetarians and vegans are at a particularly high risk of not getting enough ().
For this reason, plant-based milk substitutes such as soy milk are also often fortified with this nutrient and other vitamins and minerals usually found in cow's milk.
One cup (237 ml) typically contains between 99 and 119 IU of vitamin D, which is up to 20% of the RDI (, ).
Around 75% of people worldwide are lactose intolerant and another 2–3% have a milk allergy (, ).
For this reason, some countries fortify orange juice with vitamin D and other nutrients, such as calcium ().
One cup (237 ml) of fortified orange juice with breakfast can start your day off with up to 142 IU of vitamin D, or 24% of the RDI ().
Cereal and Oatmeal
Certain cereals and instant oatmeal are also fortified with vitamin D.
A 1/2-cup serving of these foods can provide between 55 and 154 IU, or up to 26% of the RDI (, ).
Though fortified cereals and oatmeal provide less vitamin D than many natural sources, they can still be a good way to boost your intake.
Summary Foods such as cow's milk, soy milk, orange juice, cereals and oatmeal are sometimes fortified with vitamin D. These contain 55–130 IU per serving.
Spending time out in the sun is the best way to get your daily dose of vitamin D. However, sufficient sun exposure is difficult for many people to achieve.
Getting enough from your diet alone may be difficult, but not impossible.
The foods listed in this article are some of the top sources of vitamin D available.
Eating plenty of these vitamin-D-rich foods is a great way to make sure you get enough of this important nutrient.