Everyone starts talking about vitamin D when the fall and winter months start approaching. Because we get the majority of the vitamin D we need from direct sunlight, we can begin to grow deficient in this vitamin during seasons when the sun isn’t out as much throughout the day. This important nutrient has been linked to both our bone and brain health, so if we aren’t getting enough of it from the sun, it’s important to incorporate more vitamin D foods into our daily diet.
Not getting enough vitamin D has been linked to worsening bone health and an increased risk of osteoporosis—the condition of having weak and brittle bones.
How does this work? Your body needs vitamin D to adequately absorb calcium, so if you’re deficient in vitamin D over longer periods of time, your body won’t be able to absorb the necessary levels of calcium from the food you eat. When this happens, your body actually starts to pull calcium from your bones—where 99% of the body’s calcium is stored—resulting in weaker, more fragile bones. Eventually, this may lead to osteoporosis or osteomalacia (bone softening).
Vitamin D and bone health
Research by Penn State scientists suggests that vitamin D may play a role in immune response by helping the immune system turn off after the infection is gone. This helps with “recovery from infection because many infections’ lethality results from too much immune response—the inflammation caused by the infection lasts longer and is more severe if the immune response goes unchecked,” according to Margherita Cantorna, professor of molecular immunology and lead author of the study, in a press release.
Having adequate levels of vitamin D can suppress immune-mediated diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
Vitamin D impacts both your mental and cognitive health as well. According to the National Institutes of Health, not getting enough of this vitamin on a consistent basis can result in an increased risk of depression, which is one of the reasons people ramp up on their vitamin D supplements during the darker winter months when you’re not able to get as much vitamin D from sunlight.
Vitamin D and immunity
The journal Cureus from the National Library of Medicine also links deficiency in vitamin D to a higher chance of developing dementia or other common types of cognitive impairment.
For the average adult between 19 and 70 years old, the daily value for vitamin D is 600 IUs (international units), and when you hit 70 it ramps up to 800 IUs per day.
Vitamin D and your brain
One of the best ways to get vitamin D is through sunlight, because when your body makes this vitamin when it is exposed to the sun. Research has found that in most places, all you need is around 13 minutes in direct, midday sun to get a sufficient amount of vitamin D. However, this is impacted by things like clouds, time of year, smog, and the color of your skin—with darker skin not absorbing as much sunlight as lighter skin.
When you can’t get this important vitamin from the sun, you can turn to food for help. Although there aren’t many food items that naturally contain vitamin D, you can find fortified cereals, juices, and dairy products to help you reach your daily value.
Read on for our list of vitamin D foods, and for more healthy eating tips, check out the 18 Best Iron-Rich Foods You Can Eat.
Vitamin D content (per 1 cup): 1,010 IUs (168% DV)
It sounds odd, but hear us out: when mushrooms are exposed to sunlight or a UV lamp (ultraviolet light), they can generate high levels of vitamin D2, according to a study published in the journal Nutrients. In fact, this method results in mushrooms with vitamin D levels higher than most vitamin D-containing foods.