Vitamin D is unique, because it can be obtained from food and sun exposure.
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 400 IU of vitamin D per day from foods, but many health organizations recommend getting 600 IU (3).
If you don’t get enough sunlight, it should probably be closer to 1,000 IU per day (4).
Here are 9 healthy foods that are high in vitamin D.
Salmon is a popular fatty fish and also a great source of vitamin D.
According to nutrient databases, one 3.5-oz (100-gram) serving of salmon contains between 361 and 685 IU of vitamin D (5).
However, it is usually not specified whether the salmon was wild or farmed. This might not seem important, but it can make a big difference.
One study found that wild-caught salmon contains 988 IU of vitamin D per 3.5-oz (100-gram) serving, on average. That’s 247% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) (6).
Some studies have found even higher levels in wild salmon, ranging up to 1,300 IU per serving (7).
Farmed salmon contained only 25% of that amount, on average. Still, that means a serving of farmed salmon contains about 250 IU of vitamin D, which is 63% of the RDI (6).
Bottom Line: Wild salmon contains about 988 IU of vitamin D per serving, while farmed salmon contains 250 IU, on average.
2. Herring and Sardines
Herring is a fish eaten around the world. It can be served raw, canned, smoked or pickled.
It’s also one of the best sources of vitamin D.
Fresh Atlantic herring provides 1,628 IU per 3.5-oz (100-gram) serving, which is four times the RDI (8).
If fresh fish isn’t your thing, pickled herring is also a great source of vitamin D, providing 680 IU per 3.5-oz (100-gram) serving. That’s 170% of the RDI.
However, pickled herring also contains a high amount of sodium, which some people consume too much of (9).
Sardines are another type of herring that is also a good source of vitamin D. One serving contains 272 IU, which is 68% of the RDI (10).
Bottom Line: Herring contains 1,628 IU of vitamin D per 3.5-oz (100-gram) serving. Pickled herring, sardines and other fatty fish such as halibut and mackerel are also good sources.
3. Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil is a popular supplement. If you don’t like fish, taking cod liver oil can be a good way to obtain certain nutrients that are hard to get from other sources.
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, it’s best to be cautious with cod liver oil and not take more than you need.
Cod liver oil is also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which many people are lacking in.
Bottom Line: Cod liver oil contains 450 IU of vitamin D per teaspoon (4.9 ml). It is also high in other nutrients, such as vitamin A.
4. Canned Tuna
Many people enjoy canned tuna because of its light flavor and the fact that it can be kept on-hand in the pantry.
It is also usually cheaper than buying fresh fish.
Canned light tuna contains up to 236 IU of vitamin D in a 100-gram (3.5-oz) serving, which is more than half of the RDI.
It is also a good source of niacin and vitamin K (15).
Bottom Line: Canned tuna contains 236 IU of vitamin D per serving. Choose light tuna and eat 6 oz or less per week to protect against methylmercury buildup.
Oysters are a type of clam that live in salt water. They are delicious, low in calories and full of nutrients.
One 3.5-oz (100-gram) serving of wild oysters has only 68 calories, but contains 320 IU of vitamin D, or 80% of the RDI (19).
In addition, one serving of oysters contains 2–6 times more than the RDI of vitamin B12, copper and zinc — far more than multivitamins contain.
Bottom Line: Oysters are full of nutrients and provide 320 IU of vitamin D. They also contain more vitamin B12, copper and zinc than a multivitamin.
Shrimp are a popular type of shellfish.
Yet unlike most other seafood sources of vitamin D, shrimp are very low in fat.
Despite this fact, they still contain a good amount of vitamin D — 152 IU per serving, or 38% of the RDI (20).
They also contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, although at lower amounts than many other foods rich in vitamin D.
Shrimp also contain about 152 mg of cholesterol per serving, which is a significant amount. However, this should not be a cause for concern.
Many recent studies have shown that dietary cholesterol intake does not have a big effect on blood cholesterol levels.
Bottom Line: Shrimp contain 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.
7. Egg Yolks
Luckily for people who don’t like fish, 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 egg white, the fat, vitamins and minerals are found mostly in the egg yolk.
Additionally, eggs from chickens fed with vitamin D-enriched feed have levels increased up to an incredible 6,000 IU of vitamin D per yolk (26).
Choosing eggs that are either from chickens raised outside or that are marketed as high in vitamin D can be a great way to help meet your daily requirements.
Bottom Line: 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.
Similar to humans, mushrooms can synthesize this vitamin when exposed to UV light (27).
However, mushrooms produce vitamin D2, whereas animals produce vitamin D3.
Nonetheless, wild mushrooms are excellent sources of vitamin D2. In fact, some varieties contain up to 2,300 IU per 3.5-oz (100-gram) serving (30).
Commercially grown mushrooms, on the other hand, are often grown in the dark and contain very little vitamin D2.
However, certain brands are treated with UV light. These mushrooms can contain anywhere from 130–450 IU of vitamin D2 per 3.5 oz (100 grams) (31).
Bottom Line: 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.
9. Fortified Foods
Natural sources of vitamin D are limited, especially if you’re a vegetarian or don’t like fish.
Fortunately, some foods that don’t naturally contain vitamin D are fortified with it.
Because vitamin D is found almost exclusively in animal products, vegetarians and vegans are at particularly high risk of not getting enough of (35).
For this reason, plant-based milks such as soy milk are also often fortified with it, as well as other vitamins and minerals usually found in cow’s milk.
One cup (237 ml) of fortified orange juice for breakfast can start your day off with up to 142 IU of vitamin D, or 36% of the RDI (41).
Cereal and Oatmeal
Certain cereals and instant oatmeal are also fortified with vitamin D.
Although fortified cereals and oatmeal provide less vitamin D than many natural sources, they can still be a good way to boost your intake.
Bottom Line: Some foods are fortified with vitamin D, including cow’s milk, soy milk, orange juice, cereals and oatmeal. They contain between 55 and 130 IU per serving.
Take Home Message
Spending some time outside in the sun is the best way to get your daily dose of vitamin D. However, getting sufficient sun exposure is not possible for many people.
Getting enough from your diet alone is 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.