Which foods offer the most vitamin D?

For the most part, vitamin D is generated when our skin is exposed to the sun. It’s estimated that between 50 and 90 per cent of the nutrient is created this way.1

The amount of vitamin D a person absorbs from the sun depends on various factors, such as surface reflection, skin type, cloud cover and latitude. Even our body weight, age and the clothes we wear can affect our ability to synthesise this much-needed vitamin.1

So, what are the next best sources of vitamin D?

Fatty fish

There are very few foods that naturally provide us with vitamin D. Fatty fish are regarded to be the best source of the nutrient. Species such as mackerel, herring, trout and salmon fall under this category.2

Oily fish provide the human body with vitamin D3, the same compound produced when human skin interacts with ultraviolet (UV) light. It makes sense that oily fish contain a notable amount of vitamin D, as the nutrient itself is stored in fat.2

Fish are unable to endogenously produce vitamin D3 the same way humans and other animals do. These animals absorb the nutrient through dietary means. Plankton, a food source for many fish, has been identified as a strong source of vitamin D.2

The type of fish a person eats generally dictates how much vitamin D they consume with each meal. Raw herring, for example, contains more of the nutrient than uncooked salmon.2

Evidence also suggests that the manner in which fish are stored and prepared can impact vitamin D content. For instance, sardines canned in oil have a slightly higher amount of vitamin D than sardines canned in brine.2

The environment in which a fish lived can have an effect on how much vitamin D it carries. Studies have shown that farmed salmon possess 25 per cent of the vitamin D found in wild salmon.2

Straight from the chicken coop

Eggs are another dietary source of vitamin D, although they don’t provide as much of the nutrient as fish. Some food companies also increase the vitamin D contents of eggs by feeding chickens meals supplemented with the nutrient.3

Other sources

After eggs, the number of naturally vitamin D-rich foods decreases significantly. The remaining foods that are a notable source of vitamin D are fortified products. In Australia, some milk and other dairy products are supplemented with the nutrient.4

If you struggle to get your daily dose of sunshine and don’t often include fatty fish, eggs or foods fortified with vitamin D in your diet, a vitamin D supplement may be able to help you meet your daily vitamin D needs. Look for at least 1000IU of vitamin D3 in each dose to help keep your bones and muscles strong.

  1. Ministry for Primary Industries. Determination of vitamin D in foods: Current knowledge and data gaps. February 2014. https://www.mpi.govt.nz/document-vault/4127 20/04/2015
  2. Food and Health Innovation Service. Fish as a dietary source of healthy long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC n-3 PUFA) and vitamin D. June 2012. https://www.abdn.ac.uk/rowett/documents/fish_final_june_2012.pdf 20/04/2015