Some food sources of vitamin D (Image via Unsplash/David B Townsend)

Vitamin D Foods: Health Benefits, Food Sources,and More

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for bone density and maintenance of mineral balance in our bodies. The health benefits of vitamin D are well known. This vitamin also helps in the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, which are the essential mineral constituents of bones. Another name for vitamin D is cholecalciferol. The active form of cholecalciferol is known as 1, 25 dihydroxycholecalciferol (calcitriol).

There are two types of vitamin D found in foods: D2 and D3. The D3 form is only found in animal foods, including meat, fish, chicken, and eggs, and D2 mainly comes from mushrooms and fortified foods.


Vitamin D and Health


There are several health benefits of getting enough vitamin D. It can prevent certain diseases and protect our body from infections. Some of the benefits are listed below:

Prevention of heart disease: Cholecalciferol can prevent the occurrence of heart disease, including hypertension, heart failure, and stroke. It can also decrease the chances of chronic heart conditions.


Immune health: Cholecalciferol can prevent infections and autoimmune diseases. It can also reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes mellitus, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Protection of the lungs: During the Covid-19 pandemic, it was found that low levels of this vitamin increased the risk of infections. The supplementation of cholecalciferol helped people recover faster from Covid-19 infections.

Prevention of multiple sclerosis (MS): Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the nervous system. Consumption of foods rich in this vitamin can help people suffering from this disease see improvement in their symptoms.

Apart from these benefits, this vitamin also plays a crucial role in metabolism and weight loss.


How Much Do You Need?


According to the US National Academy of Medicine, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of this vitamin is 400–800 IU (10–20 µg). Dietary supplements can contain doses ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 IU (25–50 µg) per day.

Common food sources can provide the minimum required amount of this vitamin. Severe deficiency is usually treated with dietary supplements. RDA guidelines may vary from country to country due to different criteria.


Vitamin D Food Sources

The D3 form is only found in animal-sourced foods. The foods are listed below:

  • Butter
  • Full-fat cream
  • Full-fat milk
  • Fish oil
  • Liver meat
  • Red meat fat
  • Sardines
  • Herring
  • Tuna
  • Egg yolk
  • Dietary supplements

The D2 form can be found in the following plant-based sources:

  • Mushrooms (grown under UV rays/sunlight)
  • Fortified cereals
  • Fortified juices
  • Fortified plant milk including oats, almonds, and soy milk.
  • Dietary supplements

Dietary supplements are usually available in either form. The D3 form is better than the D2 form with regard to bioavailability and absorption. Currently, manufacturers are shifting to the use of D3 instead of D2.

Signs of Deficiency and Toxicity

Deficiency signs can vary from person to person. These symptoms are usually related to compromised immunity, mental health, and bone health. Some of the symptoms that a person with low vitamin D levels may show are listed below:

  • Frequent infections
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep issues
  • Joint pain
  • Back pain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bone loss
  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Hair thinning

Excess consumption of any fat-soluble vitamins, including cholecalciferol, can have the following toxicity symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Apathy
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dehydration
  • Confusion
  • Increased thirst


Dietary sources of cholecalciferol include fatty fish, fish oils, egg yolks, butter, and liver. Supplements are also available in the form of soft gels or chewable tablets. People who consume the aforementioned foods regularly can avoid deficiency symptoms. Severe deficiencies in this vitamin are treated with dietary supplements. Consuming whole foods rich in vitamins and minerals is a better option than relying completely on supplements.

FAQ: Which food is highest in vitamin D?

Fatty fish is the richest source of naturally occurring cholecalciferol. The fat deposits on the fish skin contain the highest amounts of this vitamin.

Which fruit is rich in vitamin D?

Oranges can contain certain amounts of this vitamin. This fruit may be the best among fruits but cannot be classified as a rich source.

Which vegetable is the highest in vitamin D?

Spinach contains the highest amount of this vitamin in its D2 form. Other leafy greens are rich in D2 as well. It is also among the best dietary fiber foods to add to your diet.


How can I get vitamin D naturally?

The human body can synthesize this vitamin in the presence of sunlight. Cholesterol present under the skin is usually converted to cholecalciferol when triggered by sunlight.


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Edited by
Ramaa Kishore
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