The 12 Highest Vitamin D Foods For A Plant-Based Diet

Add these healthy powerhouse eats to your daily menu the natural way.

March 23, 2016
shiitake mushrooms
1/13 successo images/shutterstock

You know what happens to your health when you don't get enough vitamin D, but it's a tricky nutrient to get enough of. Yes, your body manufactures it when exposed to sunlight, but slathering on the sunscreen—a barrier to wrinkles and vitamin D production—means you may not be getting as much as you think. So it’s no surprise that half of the U.S. population is estimated to be Vitamin D deficient. “Vitamin D is one of the important tools to keeping your bones healthy,” says Carlene Thomas, RDN, LD, registered dietitian nutritionist. Plus, it helps improve mood, immunity, and weight loss. Before you go reaching for the supplements, check out our slideshow of 11 non-fortified foods that serve up the sunshine vitamin the tastiest way possible. Dig in!

ricotta cheese
2/13 casanisa/shutterstock
12. Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese

Vitamin D: 12 IUs (international units) per ½-cup serving

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When it comes to cheese, ricotta is a vitamin D standout—and the whole-milk kind has almost double the vitamin D as low-fat. Creamy ricotta is also loaded with body-toning protein (14 grams per ½-cup); leucine, an amino acid that promotes fat burning; and calcium. For the freshest kind, learn how to make this recipe for Homemade Organic Ricotta Cheese from whole or partially skim milk.

(And here's how to make butter with an electric mixer, while we're at it.)

 

cheddar
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11. Sharp Cheddar

Vitamin D: 12 IUs per ½-cup serving 

Sharp cheddar has 11 times more vitamin D and way more flavor than the low-fat stuff so you usually eat less. Plus, cheese could actually help you lose weight. The dairy delight contains butyrate, a fatty acid that, when eaten in moderation, can keep your cholesterol and waistline trim. These Cheddar + Prosciutto Biscuits With Rosemary won’t disappoint.

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10. Egg Yolks

Vitamin D: 41 IUs per large egg

Forget egg white omelets; the yolks are the real nutrition stars, and they deserve a spot in your healthy diet. The yellow center is where you’ll find easy-to-absorb sources of vitamin D, B vitamins, and antioxidants, and nearly half the protein. And contrary to popular opinion, the cholesterol in eggs doesn’t increase your risk of heart disease. Tip: Free-range and pasture-raised eggs actually have higher levels of vitamin D—one more reason to learn what the labels on egg cartons actually mean.

shiitake mushrooms
5/13 successo images/shutterstock
9. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Vitamin D: 154 IUs per 3-ounce serving

Packed with flavor and nutrients, dried shiitakes win on shelf life and vitamin D, with eight times more than fresh (the drying process boosts vitamin D). The meaty morsels also have anti-viral and anti-cancer properties, and have been linked to lowered cholesterol. Enjoy them in a Creamy Mushroom Soup.

chanterelle mushroom
6/13 bildagentur zoonar gmbh/shutterstock
8. Chanterelle Mushrooms

Vitamin D: 212 IUs per 3-ounce serving

Chanterelles not only look different than traditional white button mushrooms, they have 30 times more vitamin D. And that’s not all: They’re also a super source of iron, fiber, niacin, and potassium. Whip up Chanterelle Mushroom And Root Vegetable Latkes for a fancy boost of vitamin D.

Morel mushrooms
7/13 tomasz czadowski/shutterstock
7. Morel Mushrooms

Vitamin D: 212 IUs per 3-ounce serving

In addition to a hefty dose of vitamin D, these honeycomb-looking ’shrooms have through-the-roof levels of energy-enhancing iron. One cup delivers 8 grams, almost half your daily dose of the nutrient. Try them in this hearty Squash Soup recipe.

Related: What One Woman Discovered When She Went Mushroom Foraging In The Woods

sardines
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6. Sardines

Vitamin D: 219 IUs per 3 sardines

Hold up before you scoff at sardines. These sustainable fish are low in mercury and high in healthy omega 3 fatty acids, not to mention vitamin D. Add them to an antipasto platter, use them as a crostini topper, or toss ’em into a salad, like this Toasted Pita Salad With Sardines.

Related: How To Cook With Sardines

tuna
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5. Tuna Fish

Vitamin D: 229 IUs per 3-ounce serving

Not all tuna is laden with mercury, and it is seriously swimming in vitamin D. Light tuna tends to have more, and the packed-in-oil variety not only contains more vitamin D, but it also retains more omega 3s—fats that boost your health in countless ways. In addition to protein, you’ll also get plenty of immune-boosting selenium. For a healthy non-mayo twist, try this recipe for Tuna Salad With Lemon And Yogurt.

Three species of Alaskan salmon
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4. Wild Salmon

Vitamin D: 307 IUs per 3-ounce serving

Not all salmon is created equal. Wild-caught has 75 percent more vitamin D than farmed, and how you cook it also makes a difference. In one study, baking preserved vitamin D, while fried fish lost half the nutrient. The pink-fleshed catch also delivers a high amount of brain-boosting omega 3 fatty acids (enough that you could forgo a supplement if you eat it 2-3 times per week) and B vitamins for energy. “Salmon is such a versatile food,” says Thomas. “It works for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it can easily be seasoned to fit multiple cuisines.” Try this delicious recipe for Maple + Thyme Glazed Salmon.

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3. Cod Liver Oil

Vitamin D: 415 IUs per teaspoon

Your grandma was right: Cod liver oil is good for you! Perhaps the quickest and easiest way to swallow your vitamin D, just 1 teaspoon also delivers almost double your daily dose of vitamin A, an immune-boosting vitamin that’s good for heart and eye health. Can't stomach the taste? You can still add this supplement to your diet—just look for it in capsule form from brands like Nordic Naturals.

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2. Mushrooms Treated With Natural Light

Vitamin D: 600 IUs per 3-ounce serving of Monterey sliced baby bellas

It turns out that mushrooms really are magic. The fungi contain ergosterol, a plant sterol that converts to vitamin D when exposed to natural or UV light. Although traditionally mushrooms are grown in the dark, companies like Monterey Mushrooms are exposing their fungi to UV light to bump up the vitamin D. “Vitamin D is fat soluble, so pair mushrooms with olive oil to boost absorption,” suggests Thomas. See for yourself by trying this Tortellini With Mushrooms recipe.

Related: How To Grow Your Own Mushrooms

canned salmon
13/13 Matt Rainey
1. Canned Sockeye Salmon

Vitamin D: 718 IUs per 3-ounce serving

Salmon by the can is the top food source of vitamin D, racking up even more of the nutrient than fresh, plus it’s cheaper and may have less mercury—since it’s the smaller, lower mercury fish that are more likely to end up getting canned—though be sure to buy the kind in BPA-free cans, such as this, by Wild Planet foods. Sockeye has a leg up, but pink canned salmon is no slouch with 493 IUs per serving. Either way you’re getting a whopping 20 grams of protein. Bonus: If you mash up the bones with the salmon, you’ll get even more calcium. Try it in this hearty and healthy recipe for Salmon Burgers.

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