Do vegans need vitamin D supplements?

There aren’t plant-based foods high in vitamin D. Vegans should exposure to the dangerous sunlight or take vitamin D supplements to meet the recommended daily intake.

How much vitamin D do we need daily?

According to the US Department of National Health & Human Services, most people need approximately 15 mcg or 600 IU of vitamin D per day. Elderly people need about 20 mcg.[1]

What are the health benefits of vitamin D?

Vitamin D is so important for the human body.

It plays an important role in testosterone synthesis, skin health, cell growth, neuromuscular function, immune function, and reduction of inflammation. Most noteworthy, vitamin D has been linked to the prevention of:

  • bone and tooth loss. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption. Also, it regulates calcium and phosphate in the blood. They are vital for normal bone growth.
  • osteoporosis. Vitamin D along with high doses of vitamin K2 may protect elderly people from osteoporosis.
  • cancer. Vitamin D may decrease the risk for certain cancers, such as colon, prostate, and breast cancer.

Moreover, according to studies, vitamin D may play some role in the prevention and treatment of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity, constipation, glucose intolerance, multiple sclerosis, and depression.[1]

Are animal sources rich in vitamin D?

Even meat-eaters and vegetarians can’t get adequate amounts of vitamin D from food. Only a few foods contain vitamin D.

Only fortified foods could daily provide high doses of vitamin D.

Fatty fish are the best dietary sources of vitamin D. Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks provide only small amounts:

Vitamin D (mcg)
per 100 gr)
Vitamin D (IU)
per 100 gr
% DV
(Daily Value)
cod liver oil250100001667
salmon, dried34,11364227
trout, smoked28,31132189
trout, fresh15,9636106
mackerel13,855292
tuna, smoked11,345275
mackerel, smoked11,345275
salmon, fresh10,943673
egg yolks5,421636
tuna, dried5,321235
sardines 4,819232
tuna1,76811
beef liver1,2488
cod, smoked0,8325
cheddar cheese0,6244
goat cheese0,5203
feta cheese0,4163
Animal products rich in vitamin D.

Why we shouldn’t depend on animal foods for vitamin D?

Meet, and dairy aren’t good sources of vitamin D. Actually, only specific parts of animals contain some amounts of vitamin D.[2]

Furthermore, animals may contain vitamin D, as farmers give them vitamin D supplements.

Eggs aren’t good sources of vitamin D, either. 1 egg yolk contains only 0.9 mcg of vitamin D. That’s 6% DV. But, when you eat an egg yolk, you consume 184 mg of cholesterol, and 1.6 gr of saturated fat, as well. Increased saturated fat intake has been linked to increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Therefore, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 13 grams of saturated fat per day.[3]

Additionally, fish don’t synthesize vitamin D. They receive vitamin D from food. Wild fish eat plankton that contains vitamin D. Farmed fish are fed formulated diets that contain vitamin D.[4]

Fish store vitamin D in the liver and fat tissue.

However, according to a research, fish may contain less vitamin D than the amount of vitamin D in food charts. That’s mainly due to the different fish diets. Therefore, you can’t be sure that you consume a specific dose of vitamin D from fish.[5]

Vegan foods rich in vitamin D

Vitamin D is indeed rare in food. Especially plant-based foods. There’s only a vegan option for vitamin D. Actually, only some mushrooms contain adequate amounts of vitamin D. Maitake, chanterelle, and morel are the only mushroom varieties that are high in vitamin D. Moreover, some producers expose mushrooms to ultraviolet light to produce more vitamin D naturally.[6]

Vitamin D (mcg)
per 100 gr)
Vitamin D (IU)
per 100 gr
% DV
(Daily Value)
maitake28,11123187,2
chanterelle5,321235,3
morel5,120634,3
oyster0,7294,8
shiitake0,4183,0
portabella0,3101,7
white0,271,2
enoki0,150,8
crimini0,130,5
Vitamin D content of common mushroom varieties.

Certainly, the most common dietary vitamin D sources are fortified products. Nowadays, many foods are fortified with vitamin D. For instance, you can find many fortified foods, such as tofu, orange juice, cow’s milk, or any plant-based milk. Fortified foods can help vegans to meet the daily vitamin D needs.

How much vitamin D do we get from the sun?

The human body synthesizes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sunlight. For many people, sunlight exposure is the major source of vitamin D.

The human body stores vitamin D in the liver and fat tissue. People who are exposed to the sunlight during the summer, fall, and spring may store adequate amounts of vitamin D for the winter. Research has shown that even people who live in areas with limited sun exposure can synthesize high doses of vitamin D from the sun.

Moreover, there isn’t such thing as excessive sun exposure. We can’t get too much vitamin D from sunlight. The heat on the skin inhibits the formation of excess vitamin D.[1]

How long do you need to be in the sun to get vitamin D?

There isn’t a recommended daily sunlight exposure, as vitamin D synthesis depends on many factors:

  • season,
  • time of day,
  • length of day,
  • cloud cover,
  • pollution,
  • skin melanin content, and
  • sunscreen

All these factors affect UV radiation exposure. For instance, on a cloudy day, the energy of radiation is reduced by 50%. Shade or air pollution may reduce it up to 60%. Moreover, UVB radiation doesn’t penetrate glass.

As a rule of thumb, 30 min of sun exposure daily are considered enough.

Certainly, sun exposure shouldn’t be the main source of vitamin D. Every year, there are approximately 1.5 million skin cancers due to UV radiation! UV radiation is a carcinogen.

You can protect your skin from photoaging with vitamin E and vitamin C.

These vitamins may help fight tissue inflammation, free radicals, photoaging, promote tissue healing, and stimulate collagen synthesis.[7]

Moreover, vitamin C may help to inhibit the invasion and metastasis of melanoma.[8]

Therefore, try to consume a wide variety of foods high in vitamin C and E. Especially during summer.

Should vegans take vitamin D supplements?

Vitamin D supplementation is considered pretty safe. Vitamin D toxicity is rather unlikely to happen if you don’t exceed the upper safe dose of vitamin D

On the contrary, sunlight exposure can be dangerous.

In any case, you should consult your physician before taking vitamin D supplements.

You better take vitamin D supplements with food. Especially fat. A 2015 study showed that people who consumed dietary fat with vitamin D supplementation increased its absorption by 32%.[9]

The best dietary sources of fat are seeds and nuts.

You’ll find a wide variety of vitamin D supplements on Amazon.