Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in bone health, immune function, and more. Many vegans are concerned about getting enough since the main dietary sources are animal products like fish, eggs, and dairy. However, with the right plant-based foods and supplements, vegans can easily meet their daily vitamin D needs.
This comprehensive guide will provide everything you need to know about vitamin D on a vegan diet, including:
Let’s get started exploring the best vitamin D vegan foods and how to ensure adequate intake!
What is Vitamin D and Why Do We Need It?
Vitamin D is a unique nutrient that functions as a prohormone in the body. There are two main forms:
- Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol): found in animal sources and produced in the skin through sun exposure. This is the active form the body synthesizes.
- Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol): found in plants and fungi. This form is less bioavailable but can still be utilized by the body.
Vitamin D plays several crucial roles:
- Aids in calcium absorption and bone health. Without adequate vitamin D, only 10-15% of dietary calcium and phosphorous are absorbed.
- Immune function – Vitamin D receptors are present on immune cells and help modulate immunity.
- Cell growth – Helps regulate the proliferation and differentiation of cells.
- Neuromuscular function – Important for muscles and nerve communication.
- Inflammation – Has anti-inflammatory effects that may protect against chronic diseases.
Due to its far-reaching roles, deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis, autoimmune conditions, hypertension, cancer, and more. That’s why maintaining adequate levels is essential!
Signs and Risks of Vitamin D Deficiency
Some symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Bone pain
- Muscle weakness
- Mood changes, like depression
- Impaired wound healing
- Hair loss
- Recurrent infections
Those most at risk of deficiency include:
- Vegans and vegetarians
- Breastfed infants
- Older adults
- People with darker skin tones
- Those who are overweight or obese
- Individuals with certain medical conditions like celiac or inflammatory bowel disease.
- Those with limited sun exposure
Testing vitamin D levels through a blood test screening for 25(OH)D is recommended to identify a deficiency. Optimal levels are between 30-80 ng/ml, while below 20 ng/ml is considered deficient.
Supplementation and food sources are often needed to prevent and treat insufficiency.
How Much Vitamin D Do Vegans Need?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is:
- 600 IU (15 mcg) per day for ages 1 – 70 years old.
- 800 IU (20 mcg) for those over 70 years old.
However, many experts recommend at least 1000 – 4000 IU daily, especially for those with limited sun exposure.
The upper tolerable limit is 4000 IU per day for adults. Consuming very high amounts of over 10,000 IU may cause toxicity.
Using a combination of UVB sun exposure, fortified foods, and perhaps a supplement can help vegans reach optimal intakes. Tracking intake through an app may be helpful.
Read also: Vitamin B12 Vegan Sources: A Complete Guide
Vitamin D Vegan Foods
While animal products contain more preformed vitamin D, there are still options to get this nutrient from plants:
1. UVB-Exposed Mushrooms
Exposing mushrooms to ultraviolet light significantly increases their vitamin D2 content. Look for labels indicating “vitamin D enhanced”. Just 3-4 ounces provide around 600-800 IU!
Some varieties to try are maitake and shiitake mushrooms.
2. Fortified Plant Milk
Many plant-based milks are fortified with vitamin D2 or D3. Check the label and aim for at least 30% DV (120 IU) per serving.
Soy, almond, oat, and coconut milk are commonly fortified.
3. Fortified Orange Juice
Like plant milk, many brands enrich OJ with vitamin D.
Calcium-fortified orange juice can provide up to 100 IU per cup.
4. Fortified Cereals
Look for vitamin D in the ingredient list of breakfast cereals, especially cornflakes and oatmeal.
Aim for at least 10% DV (40 IU) per serving.
5. Fortified Nutritional Yeast
A sprinkle of this nutty, cheesy seasoning can provide around 60 IU per tablespoon.
Choose brands specifically fortified with vitamin D like Bob’s Red Mill.
6. Fortified Tofu
Some brands now add vitamin D to tofu. Just a 1⁄2 cup of fortified firm tofu can have 50-150 IU.
7. Vitamin D Mushroom Powder
Dried, UVB-exposed mushroom powder is a convenient way to get D. 1 tsp may have around 400 IU!
8. Other Fortified Foods
Check labels for added vitamin D in products like plant-based yogurt, cheese, butter, and even orange juice.
Vitamin D in Plant Milk
Plant milk can be an easy way for vegans to get D, but the amount varies. Here’s how much you’ll get per cup:
- Soy milk: 105-299 IU
- Rice milk: 41-130 IU
- Almond milk: 96-105 IU
- Coconut milk: 45-104 IU
- Oat milk: 75-93 IU
- Flax milk: 60-80 IU
Opt for unsweetened to avoid added sugars. Also, look for calcium which helps vitamin D absorption.
Pour fortified plant milk into cereal, blend into smoothies, or use in vegan yogurt and ice creams.
Other Vegan-Friendly Vitamin D Sources
Beyond food, there are other ways vegans can meet their needs:
- Sunlight: Get 10-30 minutes of midday sun exposure on arms and legs 2-3 times per week. This produces vitamin D3. Those with darker skin need more exposure.
- UV Lamps: Special lamps that emit UVB light help produce vitamin D3 when exposed directly to the skin. Times vary based on the product.
- Mushroom powder: Powder from UV-treated mushrooms like the brands Manitou and Naturebell.
- Lichen: A unique plant that produces vitamin D3. Sold as supplements.
- Vitamin D2 Mushrooms: Eating raw mushrooms exposed to UVB light.
Exposure to sunlight or UV lamps is likely the most natural, cost-effective way to get D rather than relying solely on hard-to-get foods.
Tips for Getting Enough Vitamin D on a Vegan Diet
Meeting vitamin D needs on a plant-based diet is achievable with the right strategies:
- Try different plant milks and choose those fortified with both D and calcium.
- Check labels for vitamin D in products like plant-based yogurt, butter, cheese, and creamer.
- Use fortified nutritional yeast daily. Just 2 tbsp provides 120 IU.
- Add mushrooms to soups, stir-fries, pizza, and more. Opt for UV-exposed varieties.
- Enjoy fortified orange juice and cereals.
- Get sun. Aim for 10-30 minutes of midday exposure 2-3 times per week. Be careful not to burn.
- Consider a UV lamp or take an oral D3 supplement derived from lichen.
- Use a tracking app to ensure you’re getting enough food and sun.
With consistent intake from a variety of sources, vegans can prevent vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D and Calcium
Getting enough calcium and vitamin D together is important, as vitamin D helps the body absorb and utilize calcium.
Good vegan sources of calcium include:
- Fortified plant milk
- Leafy greens like kale, collards, and bok choy
- Calcium-set tofu
- Blackstrap molasses
Aim for at least 1000 mg of calcium daily. Consuming vitamin D and calcium-rich foods together, like fortified plant milk with cereal or spinach salad with beans, ensures optimum absorption.
The Best Vitamin D Vegan Supplements
In cases of deficiency or inadequate sun exposure, a vitamin D supplement may be prudent. Here are great vegan options:
Vitamin D3 from Lichen
- Garden of Life Vitamin D3 – 1000-5000 IU capsules derived from lichen
- NOW Vitamin D3 – 2500-5000 IU derived from lichen
- Mary Ruth’s Vitamin D3 – 500-5000 IU liquid drops or chewable
Vitamin D2 from Mushrooms/Yeast
- New Chapter Vitamin D2 – 1000-8000 IU made from mushrooms
- NatureWise Vitamin D2 – 2000-5000 IU from yeast
- MacroLife Vegan Vitamin D – 2500 IU capsules
The recommended dosage can vary based on needs. Consult with your doctor and have levels tested if deficient. D2 may be less potent so higher doses are often needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can Vegans Get Enough Vitamin D?
Yes, though it may take more planning and intentional intake. Consuming fortified foods, getting sun exposure, and perhaps taking a supplement ensures optimal vitamin D status. Prioritize sources of vitamin D and calcium.
2. Is Vitamin D Vegan?
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is normally animal-derived. However, supplements made from lichen or mushrooms provide vegan D2 and D3. Opt for these over lanolin-sourced D3.
3. What Are Symptoms of Low Vitamin D?
Fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness, mood issues, hair loss, poor immunity, bone loss and rickets in kids can indicate deficiency. Get levels tested if concerned.
4. Can You Get Too Much Vitamin D?
Yes, taking very high amounts over 4000 IU long-term can cause toxicity with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, confusion, and kidney problems. Stick within recommended intakes.
5. Are Mushrooms a Good Source of Vitamin D?
Mushrooms naturally contain vitamin D2. When UVB-exposed, both D2 and D3 levels increase substantially. About 3-4 ounces provide a solid amount. Supplements made from mushrooms and powder are also great options.
Despite being found mostly in animal products, there are plentiful ways for vegans to meet daily vitamin D needs. Consuming fortified plant-based foods, spending time in the sun, and taking supplements if necessary can keep levels in an optimal range and prevent deficiency. Pair vitamin D sources with calcium for the best absorption. Maintaining adequate vitamin D intake provides tremendous benefits for bone health, immunity, mood, and beyond!