Vitamin D Sources – Foods High in Vitamin D

The Role of Vitamin D in the Human Body

Vitamin D is essential for life.It enables absorption of calcium and phosphate from the small intestine and their incorporation into bones and teeth. Vitamin D enhances immunity and reduces inflammation. Calcium and phosphate are, among other, responsible for proper function of nerves and muscles.

Children not getting enough of vitamin D may develop rickets (1) – a disease with bone deformities. Vitamin D deficiency in adults results in osteomalacia (2) – weak bones with pains in bones and bone fractures.

Vitamin D Sources


The main source of vitamin D is production of vitamin D in the skin after exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet B rays from the sun convert a substance derived from cholesterol in the skin to cholecalciferol (vit D3), which, is in two steps (in the liver and then in the kidneys), converted into an active form of vitamin d – calcitrol (1,25OH-D). Excessive vitamin D is dissolved in the fatty tissue that serves as a body store of vitamin D. Healthy people living at latitudes between 45° N and 45° S should produce enough vitamin D from their face, forearms and hands (or back) exposure to the sun lasting at least 10-15 minutes twice a week (on any sunny day in the year). If their blood calcium and phosphate levels are within the normal range, they do not need any additional vitamin D from foods or supplements. That means vitamin D is actually not a true vitamin – by definition, vitamins are substances essential for life but human body cannot synthesize them, so we have to get them with food. Vitamin D is rather a pro-hormone that after some chemical changes in the body becomes an active hormone. A hormone, by definition, is a substance synthesized on one site and taking effect on another site(s) of the body. 

Animal Food Rich in Vitamin D

Fish, fish liver and fish oil are main natural animal sources of vitamin D3 – cholecalciferol. Egg yolk, beef liver and cheese also contain some vitamin D.

In some countries, including United States, vitamin D is added to milk – vitamin D3 fortified milk -but not to other dairy products, like cheese or ice cream. Amount of vitamin D in fortified milk should be clearly noted on a product label.

Plant Food Containing Vitamin D

Only some plants contain (a small amount of) vitamin D2- ergocalciferol. Vitamin D3 fortified margarine, orange juice and morning cereals are available in some countries, including US and UK.

NOTE: People living above 45° N or below 45° S, having their body completely covered with clothes, using sunscreens with SPF above 8, or being home-bound would possibly need to eat some vitamin D fortified foods or vitamin D supplements to maintain sufficient levels of calcium and phosphate in the blood.

Foods High in Vitamin D

High amount of vitamin D is naturally present in fish, fish liver and oil, and egg yolk.

Table 1. Examples of Natural Foods Rich in Vitamin D

Food IUs per serving* Percent DV**
Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon 1,360 340
Salmon, cooked, 3.5 ounces 360 90
Mackerel, cooked, 3.5 ounces 345 90
Tuna fish, canned in oil, 3 ounces 200 50
Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 1.75 ounces 250 70
Egg, 1 whole (vitamin D is found in yolk) 20 6
Liver, beef, cooked, 3.5 ounces 15 4
Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce 12 4

*IU = International Unit. DV = daily value.

Some countries add vitamin D to fortified milk, soy milk, orange juice, margarine or “morning cereals”.

Table 2. Examples of Fortified Foods with Added Vitamin D

Food IUs per serving* Percent DV**
Milk, nonfat, reduced fat, and whole, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup 98 25
Margarine, fortified, 1 tablespoon 60 15
Ready-to-eat cereal, fortified with 10% of the DV for vitamin D
, 0.75-1 cup (more heavily fortified cereals might provide more of the DV)
40 10

*IU = International Unit. DV = Daily Value.

Here is a list of 461 food products containing vitamin D

Related Articles:


  1. Rickets (
  2. Osteomalacia (
  3. Diet will not likely provide enough vitamin D to persons not exposed to the sun (
About Jan Modric (249 Articles)
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  • SM Akhtar

    Dear Sir, I know the naturel resources of Vitamin D available but I also want to know the availibility of Vitamin D in the market in the form of Capsules or Tablets for daily consuming. Thanks

  • SM Akhtar

    Types of Vitamin D containing drugs available in the market, to be taken orally. In India what form of drugs available Capsules/Tablets there dosage for Children / Adult. Thanks

  • Jan Modric

    SM Akhtar,

    Production of vit D after sunlight exposure is the main source of vitamin D for a human. Without knowing an exact reason I can not recommend taking any additional vitamin D , appart from one contained in the regular diet.

  • Susan

    I just received the results of my Vitamin D, 25-Hydroxy blood test. My result was 6.1 ng/ml with the normal lab ranges as 32-100. My doctor said she recommends taking precription strength vitamin D & an over the counter Vit D with Calcium with at least 400 IU’s of D 3X’s a day. I researched the subject and found that more than a total of 2000 IU’s is recommended per day. I’m 57 years old. I read about Vitamin D toxicity symptoms and problems. It seems a fine line to balance. How often should levels be rechecked to avoid problems? What dosage would you recommend with a 6.1 result with no chronic illness present?

    • Jan Modric


      it is your doctor’s responsibility to prescribe you appropriate vitamin D dose, and I can’t mess with that, especially when I don’t know the cause. The recommended vitamin D intake for people with normal blood vitamin D levels after 50 years is 400 IU/day, though. Vitamin D toxicity in adults probably occurs only at doses exceeding 10,000 IU/day, which means 1,200 IU/day are not likely to be toxic. Blood levels of calcium, magnesium, parathyroid hormone (PTH), estradiol, and both active (1-25 Hydroxi) and inactive form (25-Hydroxi) of vitamin D may help to understand the cause for low vitamin D level.

  • nimisha

    dear sir, i want to know about bioassay of all vitamins includes -vit -A, vit -D,E,K,B1,B2,B3,B6,B11,B12,C,B5,H (BIOTIN).

    • Jan Modric


      you can read about vitamin testing here on Google books in chapter 11, strating on page 179