Many U.S. adults don’t get enough vitamin D through diet alone and may have low vitamin D levels
Certain people face an increased risk of developing low vitamin D
Not many foods naturally contain vitamin D, but some sources are fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, and beef liver
Other sources of vitamin D include 10-15 minutes a day of full sun exposure (without sunscreen, exposing arms, legs, and face) and dietary supplements
Back in the 1930s, the U.S. government began to fortify cow’s milk as a vitamin D source with the goal of eliminating rickets—a disease that softens and weakens bones and stems from vitamin D deficiency. Now, nearly all of our country’s milk supply is fortified, with each one-cup serving containing about 3 mcg (120 IU) of vitamin D. Many plant-based milk alternatives (like almond and soy milk) are similarly fortified.
And yet, 95% of Americans still don’t consume enough vitamin D from their diet alone.  In fact, the 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee identified Vitamin D as a “nutrient of public health concern,” as 9 out of 10 Americans fail to meet their daily Vitamin D needs. But what does vitamin D do that’s so important to our bodies?
These statistics are alarming because vitamin D is critical for your health and well-being, providing support for bone health, muscle health, and immune health.†
What’s going on with low vitamin D in so many people’s diets?
Unfortunately, vitamin D is not present in most commonly consumed foods. That’s why it’s added to certain foods (like milk) to fortify them with vitamin D. But it is present in some foods. If you’re wondering what food is high in vitamin D, you might need a refresher on vitamin D-rich foods to include in your diet. Even though sunlight exposure can help increase vitamin D levels, eating fortified food with vitamin D or taking vitamin D supplements is important for your health.†
Read on to learn more about where to find vitamin D in foods and drinks.
How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?
If you’re a generally healthy adult, the daily amount of vitamin D you’ll need (measured in international units) depends on your age. Below are the recommended amounts:
Birth to 12 months: 10 mcg or 400 IU
Children 1-13 years: 15 mcg or 600 IU
Teens 14-18 years: 15 mcg or 600 IU
Adults 19-70 years: 15 mcg or 600 IU
Adults 71 years and older: 20 mcg or 800 IU
Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 15 mcg or 600 IU
However, certain people face a higher risk of low vitamin D (such as infants who drink breast milk, older adults, and people with darker skin color) and may need more than the above recommended dosages to raise and maintain an adequate vitamin D level.
What Foods Have Vitamin D?
The good news: Most people can get adequate amounts of vitamin D from food, sun exposure, and dietary supplements.[6,7]
The bad news: If you’re relying exclusively on food for your vitamin D intake, only a few foods naturally contain this key nutrient. While you’ll primarily find vitamin D in fatty fish (a terrific source of omega 3 fatty acids), you’ll also find it in vitamin D-fortified foods (such as milk, breakfast cereal, and orange juice). Here’s a breakdown of specific foods that contain the two forms of vitamin D (vitamin D2 and vitamin D3).[8,9]
Vitamin D (IU)
Cod liver oil
Halibut, Greenland, raw
Rainbow trout, freshwater
Canned tuna (light)
Egg yolk (dried)
Soy beverage (soy milk), unsweetened
Yogurt, plain (nonfat or low fat)
Mushrooms, raw (various)
Fortified milk (non-fat)
Almond beverage (almond milk), unsweetened
Fortified milk (low fat)
Rice beverage (rice milk), unsweetened
Kefir, plain (low fat)
Fortified orange juice, 100%
American Cheese, fortified (low fat or fat free)
Beef, variety meats and by-products, liver, cooked, braised
When you look at the recommended vitamin D intakes above, as well as the specific foods that are a good source of vitamin D, it’s easy to see how a shortfall of this nutrient can occur. This holds true especially if you don’t regularly eat fish.
So, what can you do to boost your vitamin D intake? You can start by changing your diet to include more vitamin D-rich foods, especially fatty fish, mushrooms, and vitamin D-fortified foods (such as cereal, milk and orange juice).
In addition to eating vitamin D-rich foods, consider taking vitamin D supplements. Talk to your healthcare provider about the specific dosage you need to meet your nutritional needs. While most adults need 15 mcg or 600 IU of vitamin D daily, it can range up to 4,000 IU (100 mcg) per day depending on health needs. For instance, Nature Made supplements come in a variety of forms (such as softgels, tablets, and gummies) in adult dosages ranging from 1000 IU to 10,000 IU (5,000-10,000 IU are intended for short-term use, as directed by a healthcare provider).
As a reminder, you can also get vitamin D from the sun (hence its nickname, “the sunshine vitamin.”) Increase your daily vitamin D intake by spending just 10-15 minutes in the sun without sunscreen. This exposes your face, legs, and arms to the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. When the sun interacts with a protein found in your skin, it converts it into vitamin D3 (the active form of vitamin D). However, due to concerns about skin cancer, you’ll want to slather on sunscreen to protect your skin if you’ll be spending more than 15 minutes outside.
The Bottom Line
Because so many Americans don’t consume enough vitamin D from diet alone, they may have low vitamin D levels. That’s why it helps to know which foods actually contain this key nutrient. Unfortunately, only a few foods naturally contain vitamin D, including fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, and beef liver. Therefore, it makes sense to seek out other sources of vitamin D, including spending 10-15 minutes per day in the sun without sunscreen and taking vitamin D supplements. This is especially important for certain people who face an increased risk of low vitamin D.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Dietary Reference Intake: Guiding Principles for Nutrition Labeling and Fortification. “Overview of Food Fortification in the United States and Canada.” 2003. Accessed: October 5, 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK208880/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “2020 – 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Food sources of Vitamin D.” 2020. Accessed on: October 4, 2021. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials
U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Food Data Central: Vitamin D.” 2021. Accessed on: October 5, 2021. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov
The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 96, Issue 7, “Evaluation, Treatment, and Prevention of Vitamin D Deficiency: an Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline.” 1 July 2011, Pages 1911–1930, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-0385
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.