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Amelia Ti is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) based in NYC. She completed her Bachelor's in Nutrition & Dietetics at NYU and Master's in Applied Nutrition at Russell Sage College. Amelia's evidence-based knowledge and passion for the field allow her to translate nutrition research and innovation to the public.
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It's unfortunate that vitamin D, a nutrient that helps boost the immune system, is also at its lowest natural point in our bodies during flu season. That's because most of our vitamin D absorption comes from sunlight, a natural resource many of us are lacking exposure to during the cold months.
It's important that we're getting enough vitamin D. Vitamin D has a number of benefits, from supporting muscles and neurological functions to helping with calcium absorption in the bones, and yes, to even boosting the immune system. It's recommended by the Mayo Clinic that children up to the age of 12 months get 400 international units of vitamin D daily, people ages 1 to 70 years old get 600 IU daily and people over 70 years get 800 IU of vitamin D daily. However, we can get up to 4,000 IU daily of vitamin D before it becomes toxic.
Below are some foods that can help boost your vitamin D levels even in the winter, when we're not absorbing as much vitamin D naturally from the sunlight.
Best foods high in vitamin D
Vitamin D tends to come from natural sources such as fatty fish and egg yolks. You can also eat certain foods that are fortified with vitamin D, which we'll explore below.
The amount of vitamin D can vary depending on the individual fish you use. For instance, one study found that farmed salmon had 25% of the vitamin D content as found in wild-caught salmon. As such, if you're getting vitamin D from fish sources, try to opt for wild-caught fish instead of farmed-raised fish. As it sits, the USDA says sockeye salmon has an average of 670 IU of vitamin D per 3.5-ounce serving.
Another fatty fish that is an excellent source of vitamin D is the swordfish. The USDA lists a 100-gram serving as containing 666 IU of vitamin D. That's over the 600 IU daily recommendation for people aged 1 to 70 years old, so cooking up some swordfish for dinner may help you easily meet your vitamin D needs.
This lunchtime staple can also pack a vitamin D punch. While not as high as salmon or swordfish, fresh yellowfin tuna still contains 82 IU of vitamin D per 100-gram serving, according to the USDA. It can be a food to include as part of an overall diet in vitamin D rich foods. However, bluefin tuna has 227 IU of vitamin D per 100-gram serving, so check which type of tuna you're eating as well.
As listed by the USDA, one whole egg yolk packs a whopping 218 IU in vitamin D. Simply making a frittata or some scrambled eggs in the morning with two eggs could give you a 436-IU boost of vitamin D. That's a good way to start off any morning.
While oranges themselves are more known for their vitamin C content, orange juice often comes fortified with added vitamin D to help boost our health. Simply check the label on your orange juice to see if it has been fortified with Vitamin D. One study found that both Vitamin D2 and D3 are as equally bioavailable in orange juice as taking vitamin D capsules, meaning the body can still absorb the vitamins well.
Milk is another drink that is often fortified with vitamin D to help us get this valuable nutrient. Like orange juice, milk is not a natural source of vitamin D, but the FDA allows manufacturers to voluntarily add up to 84 IU of vitamin D3 per 100 grams of milk and 84 IU per 100 grams of D2 to plant-based milk alternatives.
Another good way to access vitamin D is to choose cereals that have been fortified with it. There are a wide variety of cereals that all add vitamin D. You simply need to check the label of what you are buying. The Mayo Clinic lists fortified cereal as a good source of Vitamin D. You might look for more healthy brands of cereal, such as whole grain options, which are more likely to fortify with higher levels of Vitamin D and be better for you overall. Try to avoid highly sugary cereals with fewer nutrients.
Liver is a love-it-or-hate-it food, but if you like beef liver, it's another good way to get vitamin D. You can either cook it up, popular with onions, or liver sausage can be a good source of vitamin D. According to the USDA, pan-fried cooked beef liver has 40 IU of vitamin D, measured for a single slice.
This is another food people either really love or really hate. However, if you're a sardine fan, sardines have a higher amount of vitamin D, too. According to the USDA, 100 grams of canned sardines have 193 IU of vitamin D. Enjoy sardines on some crackers or add them to your favorite pizza.
Herring is another type of fatty fish that is popular to eat out of a jar and on crackers, or you can cook it up for dinner. Herring boasts 214 IU of vitamin D for a 100-gram serving, according to the USDA. In fact, herring is a popular food to eat around the holidays in the Midwest. During the cold and darker months, it's a convenient and popular holiday food, and it boasts fairly high vitamin D levels.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.