What is vitamin D and what is it good for?
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the body’s ability to absorb several important minerals, including calcium, magnesium and phosphate. That makes it key to maintaining strong bones and healthy skin.
The most important vitamin D compounds for humans are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3.
The best source of vitamin D2 is actually the sun. In fact, because vitamin D is generally synthesised with exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and therefore not an essential micronutrient, it’s not technically even a vitamin.
Of course, that doesn’t mean vitamin D isn’t essential, at least in layman’s terms. An “essential nutrient” specifically refers to one that must be obtained through your diet – and a vitamin D deficiency can actually lead to serious health problems. Low vitamin D levels in the blood have been associated with bone pain and muscle weakness, rickets, asthma, cognitive impairment, cardiovascular issues, and even cancer.
The importance of vitamin D is still emerging through ongoing research. There is some evidence to suggest that it also helps prevent diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, high blood pressure, certain food intolerances, depression, and even the common cold.
But as we all know, sun exposure carries its own risks, and it’s near impossible to give a general recommendation as to how much someone should be getting. It can depend on both the climate of your location and the amount of melanin in your skin (which protects against sun radiation, but can be detrimental in low sunlight environments). Certain health conditions may also affect how much vitamin D your body can absorb.
The good news is, it’s also possible to obtain vitamin D through dietary sources. Unfortunately, there are very few foods in which vitamin D occurs naturally, but several foods on the market are fortified with it. So let’s take a look at what foods have vitamin D in useful quantities.
Foods that are vitamin D2 rich
You won’t find many vitamin D rich vegetables, so you’ll want to work mushrooms into your meals as often as possible – especially if you’re on a vegan diet. (The more light the mushrooms have been exposed to the better, although we concede it isn’t always easy to know that.) Fortunately there are so many varieties to keep things interesting. Check out this guide on how to get the best out of 15 commonly available types.
If you’re not already convinced, bear in mind that mushrooms are also a great source of calcium, potassium and B vitamins, as well as other nutrients.
Foods that are vitamin D3 rich
In many places across the world, milk is commonly fortified with vitamin D to encourage absorption of its high calcium content. In fact, in some countries, like Canada and Sweden, the law demands dairies fortify their product in order to help citizens reach their recommended dietary requirements. It’s no accident that milk is associated with strong bones.
Fish are one of the most vitamin D rich foods out there, so treat yourself to a tasty bit of salmon. Just one portion can contain up to 90% of your daily vitamin D requirements. Luckily for you, we’ve compiled the best ways to cook salmon in the oven courtesy of four top michelin-starred chefs.
The oilier the fish the better, so you can’t go wrong with sardines. As well as being one of the most sustainably sourced fish species and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, these tiny sea treats contain among the highest vitamin D concentrations in all foods.
There’s nothing wrong with just smearing them over toast, straight from the tin, but if you’re keen on preparing something more suitable for hosting, we’ve got two of the best sardine recipes right here.
Of course egg yolks are packed to the brim with nutrients. They’re quite literally a source of life. Often demonised for being high in fat and cholesterol – albeit the best possible kinds – being rich with vitamin D is just one of myriad reasons to eat egg yolks daily.
We recommend curing egg yolks in advance. That way you’ve at least got a convenient snack prepared, but you can also grate them over almost any savoury dish to add a little extra umami.
Vitamin D foods: bottom line
At the end of the day, you need to be getting plenty of vitamin D into your system. There’s no real substitute for being outside on a sunny day, but the right diet can definitely help supplement it.
Of course, some people just aren’t able to get enough vitamin D from sunlight, be it due to physiological problems, mental health issues, or simply geographical reasons. If you’re one of those people then we hope this article helped.