Vitamin D can sometimes be hard to come by on a plant-based diet. Whenever you read about ‘The Best Sources of Vitamin D’, what usually pops straight up is reams of text about oily fish (salmon in particular), egg yolks, and beef. For those of us who want our daily doses of vitamins and minerals to come from clean, healthy sources that don’t involve any suffering, it can be hard to find everything we need in a whole foods, plant-based diet.
The thing is, Vitamin D is pivotal for the health of our vital organs, helping the body absorb calcium, and keeping our immune systems functional. Becoming Vitamin D deficient can lead to increased fatigue, bone and muscle pain, and the exacerbation of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as more serious (chronic) conditions if left untreated for too long. Plus, a severe deficiency can take weeks to months of supplements before you’ll start to see an improvement. This means that keeping our levels of Vitamin D at an optimal level is really important.
Don’t worry - it can be done on a plant-based diet!!
Consider this: Everyone, no matter what they eat, is advised to take a Vitamin D supplement in the winter months as we are unlikely to be able to get enough sun to fill our requirements. For some people - those with darker skin, who work nights, wear clothing that covers the majority of their skin, and people who are unable to spend much time outside, for example - the advice is to supplement all year around.
We already know that sunshine and supplements are two good sources of Vitamin D, and we’ll look at them in a little more detail later, but for now - are there other good sources out there for vegans?
Fortified Plant Milks
Okay, let’s begin with fortified plant milks! Plant milks which haven’t been fortified with extra vitamins and minerals contain very little Vitamin D, so make sure you’re looking at the labels! One cup of fortified soy milk contains around 116 IU of the Sunshine Vitamin, with fortified almond and rice milks containing around 96 IU per cup. That’s not a bad head start if you’re popping milk on your cereal or in your breakfast smoothie!
Certain mushrooms, such as chestnut mushrooms, are one of the only plant sources which contain a significant amount of Vitamin D. Mushrooms grown in the dark actually don’t contain very much, but if grown under ultraviolet (UV) light, they can contain up to 450 IU per 100g serving.
The amount of Vitamin D in cereals can vary wildly from 8 IU to 120 IU per serving. Checking the label is important with cereals as some forms of Vitamin D3 are not suitable for vegans due to being made from lanolin, the grease found in sheep’s wool. Doesn’t sound like a great choice for breakfast!
Fortified Orange Juice
Again, a serving of fortified orange juice can offer around 100 IU and is a great addition to breakfast.
If fortified, tofu contains around 100 IU per 100g. That’s a 1:1 ratio you can’t go wrong with! I could wax lyrical all day about how much I love tofu and all the amazing things you can do with it, but that might have to be another post!
In the Northern Hemisphere, most locations will have enough sun to offer all the Vitamin D you need. Between 10 and 30 minutes with the sun on your arms and legs can give you all the Vitamin D you need for the day. However, we need to balance this with keeping our skin healthy and protected - so make sure you’re wearing sunscreen and cover up every so often to give your skin a chance to rest. In the winter, however, there just isn’t enough sunlight to keep us topped up, which is why supplements are recommended by a number of healthcare organisations.
Okay, supplements. Taking a clean, high quality and plant-based supplement every day as part of your routine can help to prevent deficiency and keep you healthy. I use Vivo Life’s Vegan Liquid Vitamin D3 which contains 2,000 IU of Vitamin D per dose, along with 25 micrograms of Vitamin K2. K2 is brilliant for optimising the effects of D3 and calcium, helping me to get the most out of my plant-based diet. It is worth bearing in mind that everyone over the age of one year old needs around 10 micrograms of D3 daily. This is equivalent to 400 IU (International Units). Taking 4,000 IU or more daily over a long period of time is considered to be unsafe as too much Vitamin D can lead to a condition called hypercalcaemia, which can damage our heart, bones and kidneys.
There you have it - a number of simple, balanced ways to get Vitamin D in your diet, without having to resort to salmon. Yuck.