So you’ve decided to go vegan. Good for you! One thing you’ll want to keep an eye on is getting enough vitamin D. Though most people associate the sun with vitamin D, not all of us get enough sun exposure, especially in the winter.The good news is, there are plenty of delicious vegan foods high in vitamin D to keep you healthy and happy.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the top vegan sources of vitamin D like mushrooms, fortified nut milks, and leafy greens. You’ll find plenty of recipe ideas to inspire you. Going vegan doesn’t mean missing out on important nutrients. With the right diet, you can get all the vitamin D you need from plants alone.
What is vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth. As vegans, we have to get creative to get enough of this important nutrient since it’s found mostly in animal foods.
Many foods are fortified with vitamin D, like plant milks, orange juice, and cereals. Check the nutrition labels and choose options with at least 30% of your daily needs per serving. Two cups of fortified soy milk or almond milk can provide over half of your vitamin D for the day.
Exposing mushrooms to UV light before harvesting ramps up their vitamin D content. Portobello, shiitake, and maitake mushrooms are especially high in D. Sautéing them in a little oil helps your body absorb the vitamin D. Aim for at least 1/2 cup a few times a week.
For many vegans, the most reliable way to get enough vitamin D is by taking a supplement. Look for vegan vitamin D3 or D2. The typical dosage is 600 to 800 IU per day, but you may need more if you have a deficiency. Talk to your doctor about getting a blood test to determine if a higher dose is right for you.
With the right diet and possibly a supplement, you can get all the bone-strengthening vitamin D you need as a vegan. Your skeletal system will thank you!
Why Vitamin D Matters for Vegans
As a vegan, you need to be especially mindful of getting enough vitamin D. Why? Because most foods naturally high in D are animal-based, like fatty fish and egg yolks.
Why Vitamin D Matters
Vitamin D does a lot more than just help build strong bones. It also helps regulate cell growth, supports your immune system, and may help prevent diseases like cancer, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis.
Since you follow a plant-based diet, your options are limited. Fortified foods like plant-based milks, orange juice, and cereal can help. Aim for 600 IU per day from foods and supplements.
Spending time in the sun is the best natural source of D. Try to get 10-15 minutes of midday sun exposure a few times a week. The UVB rays help your skin produce D. Be sure to wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn, especially if you’re fair-skinned.
If you can’t get enough sun or eat D-fortified foods regularly, consider a supplement. Look for vegan vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), ideally in liquid or chewable form for best absorption. The typical dosage for most persons of mature age is 600 to 800 IU per day to maintain healthy blood levels.
Getting the right amount of vitamin D is essential for your health and well-being as a vegan. Make it a priority to get this important nutrient from the sun, foods, or supplements every single day. Your body and mind will thank you!
Best Plant-Based Food Sources of Vitamin D
The best plant-based sources of Vitamin D are:
- Mushrooms: Mushrooms contain ergosterol, a precursor that converts to vitamin D when exposed to UV light. Shiitake and portobello mushrooms in particular contain high amounts. Just 3 ounces of UV-exposed shiitake mushrooms contains over 2,000 IU of vitamin D, about 50% of your daily needs.
- Fortified plant milks: Many non-dairy milks like almond, soy, and coconut milk are fortified with vitamin D, providing up to 25-30% of your daily needs per cup. Opt for unsweetened versions to avoid excess sugar.
- Tofu: Tofu can be a good source of vitamin D, especially tofu that has been treated with UV light. Some brands provide up to 30% of the Daily Value for vitamin D in just half a cup. Be sure to check the nutrition labels to find a fortified option.
- Nutritional yeast: This deactivated yeast is cheesy and savory, perfect for sprinkling on salads, grains, and soups. Two tablespoons contain 40% of your daily vitamin D needs. Look for a supplement labeled as “vegan vitamin D2 yeast” to ensure it is fortified.
While the options may be more limited for plant-based diets, focusing on the right foods can help you get all the bone-strengthening vitamin D you need. Mix and match these vitamin D-rich foods throughout the day to bump up your intake. Your bones will thank you!
Fortified Foods Fortified Cereal
Many vegans struggle to get enough vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and a strong immune system. Fortunately, some fortified foods can help boost your vitamin D intake.
Many popular cereal brands offer vegan options fortified with vitamin D, like Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes and bran flakes. Just one cup of these cereals typically provides 100% of your daily vitamin D needs. Add some plant-based milk and you’ll be set for the day.
Some other options include:
- Fortified plant-based milks: Look for brands of almond, soy or oat milk fortified with vitamin D. A single cup usually has around 30% of your daily needs.
- Fortified orange juice: Many brands now offer orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D. A glass per day can provide up to 100% of your vitamin D.
- Plant-based yogurts: An increasing number of coconut-based and soy-based yogurts are fortified with vitamin D. Check nutrition labels to find one with at least 30% of your daily vitamin D per serving.
By incorporating some of these fortified foods into your regular diet, vegans can help ensure they get adequate amounts of this important vitamin. Your bones and immune system will thank you!
Fortified tofu is a great vegan source of vitamin D. Many brands now offer tofu that has been enriched with vitamin D2, also known as ergocalciferol. Just 3 ounces of fortified tofu contains 100% of the Daily Value for vitamin D.
Look for terms like “fortified” or “enriched” on the tofu packaging, and then check the nutrition label to ensure it lists vitamin D2 as an ingredient. The amount will vary between brands, but aim for at least 30% DV per serving.
Fortified tofu can be used as a replacement for meat in many recipes. You can pan-sear it with some tamari or soy sauce and serve it with rice and veggies. Or cube it and add it to a stir fry. It also works well in sandwiches, salads and soups.
Since tofu tends to absorb flavors from sauces and marinades, choose a preparation method that incorporates a flavorful liquid. Marinating the tofu before cooking will allow it to soak in more of the flavor. Grilling, broiling or baking the tofu after marinating will add a nice smoky char and caramelized glaze.
Fortified tofu provides a healthy plant-based way to get more vitamin D in your diet. Combining it with other vegan sources of vitamin D like mushrooms, nutritional yeast and plant milks will help ensure you’re getting enough of this essential nutrient.
Spinach – vegan foods high in vitamin D
Spinach is one of the best vegan sources of vitamin D. Just one cup of cooked spinach contains over 600% of your daily vitamin D needs.
Spinach contains vitamin D2, also known as ergocalciferol, which is the form of vitamin D suitable for vegans. Your body can convert D2 into the active form of vitamin D that it needs. Vitamin D is essential for bone health and may help prevent conditions like rickets. It helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus.
In addition to vitamin D, spinach provides many other nutrients like:
- Folate: Important for cell growth and many other functions.
- Vitamin A: Critical for eye health and immune function.
- Vitamin C: Acts as an antioxidant and helps support the immune system.
- Vitamin K: Important for blood clotting and bone health.
To boost your vitamin D intake, add spinach to:
- Scrambled tofu
- Pasta dishes
- Rice and bean bowls
- Smoothies – You won’t even taste it!
The vitamin D in spinach is fat-soluble, meaning your body absorbs it better when you eat it with a fat like olive oil or avocado. So try sautéing your spinach in a little oil or mixing it into dishes that contain healthy fats. Your bones and immune system will thank you!
Mushrooms are one of the few plant-based sources of vitamin D. Just one cup of cooked shiitake or portobello mushrooms contains a whopping 880% of your daily vitamin D needs.
Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, are nutritional powerhouses when it comes to vitamin D. Three ounces of raw shiitakes provide over 100% of your recommended daily intake. When cooked, their vitamin D content increases even more. Shiitakes are also high in B vitamins, copper, and selenium.
For the biggest dose of D, choose mushrooms that have been dried in the sun or under UV lights. The UV exposure stimulates the mushrooms to produce more vitamin D. You can find dried shiitakes in the Asian section of most grocery stores. Rehydrate them by soaking in warm water until soft, about 30 minutes. Then add to stir fries, soups, or salads.
The vitamin D in mushrooms is D2, also known as ergocalciferol, which may be slightly less potent than the D3 (cholecalciferol) found in animal foods. However, D2 can still effectively raise your blood levels of this important nutrient. Mushrooms, along with fortified plant milks and cereals, can help ensure you get enough vitamin D in your diet, especially if sun exposure is limited.
So add some mushrooms to your next meal and soak in the sunshine! These meaty morsels can make a big difference in boosting your health and mood. Mushrooms provide a simple way for vegans and vegetarians to get more vitamin D in a natural, whole-food form.
When following a vegan diet, it’s important to find sources of vitamin D. One easy way is through fortified drinks.
Plant-based milk alternatives
Many non-dairy milks like almond, soy, and oat milk are fortified with vitamin D, calcium, and other nutrients. Check the nutrition label and choose a brand with at least 20% of your daily vitamin D per serving. Whether you drink it plain, in your coffee or smoothies, or over cereal, fortified plant-based milk can provide around 1/4 of your vitamin D needs per day.
Other options include:
- Coconut milk beverages: Some brands are also enriched with vitamin D and calcium. Look for “coconut milk beverage” rather than just coconut milk.
- Orange juice: Many brands are fortified with vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium and other nutrients. Check the label for at least 100 IU of vitamin D per 8 ounce serving.
When choosing a plant-based milk or juice, look for unsweetened or low sugar versions. The added sugar in some beverages can outweigh the nutritional benefits. Fortified drinks are an effortless way for vegans to boost their vitamin D levels and support bone health. Combined with a balanced diet of whole foods like leafy greens, legumes, nuts and seeds, you’ll be well on your way to meeting your daily needs.
Spending Time in the Sun – The Vegan Vitamin D Secret
One of the best ways for vegans to get their daily dose of vitamin D is simply spending some time in the sunshine. As little as 5 to 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 AM to 3 PM twice a week can provide you with adequate vitamin D.
The Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because sunlight is one of the best sources. When your bare skin is exposed to UVB rays in sunlight, it synthesizes vitamin D3. This is the same form found in animal sources like fish and eggs.
Getting some midday sun a few times a week is an easy, natural way for vegans to increase their vitamin D levels. Be sure not to overexpose your skin, but aim for turning a light pink. Those with darker skin may need 3-5 times more sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as someone with fair skin.
Of course, too much sun exposure also increases the risk of skin damage and skin cancer. So after 5-30 minutes in the midday sun a few times a week, cover up or use sunscreen. For many vegans, moderate sunbathing in combination with consuming vitamin D-rich plant foods will help ensure you get enough of this important vitamin.
The sun’s UVB rays are most intense between 10 AM to 3 PM, so spending time outside during these hours will maximize your vitamin D production. Getting a bit of sunshine is a healthy, natural way for vegans to boost their levels of the “sunshine vitamin.” Be sure to also eat plenty of plant-based sources of vitamin D like mushrooms, fortified foods and supplements.
Vitamin D Supplements for Vegans – To Take or Not to Take?
When it comes to vitamin D, vegans in particular need to pay close attention. Since most dietary vitamin D comes from animal sources like fish, eggs, and dairy, vegans are at higher risk of deficiency. The question is, should vegans take vitamin D supplements to compensate?
It depends on your levels and sun exposure.
The ideal way for anyone to get vitamin D is through direct sun exposure. Spending just 15-20 minutes a few times a week in the midday sun can provide your daily needs. However, for many vegans, especially those with limited sun exposure, a supplement may still be necessary to prevent deficiency.
The only way to know for sure if you need a supplement is to get your vitamin D levels tested by your doctor. They can check your blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D to determine if they’re in the optimal range. If below 30 ng/mL, a supplement of 600 to 800 IU per day of vitamin D2 or vegan vitamin D3 is typically recommended to raise your levels into the normal range.
For most vegans, especially in winter or living in northern latitudes, a modest daily supplement of 600 to 1000 IU is a safe way to ensure you’re getting adequate vitamin D to support bone health and possibly other benefits. However, you still need sun exposure whenever possible, since the sun provides other benefits supplements may lack.
In the end, the choice is up to you. But when it comes to your health, it’s always better to be safe than deficient. For vegans, that may mean both diligent sunbathing in summer and a daily vitamin D supplement the rest of the year.
So there you have it – plenty of delicious vegan foods to help you boost your vitamin D levels. Eating more vitamin-D rich foods is one of the best ways to keep your bones, muscles and mood in tip-top shape. Even though the options may be more limited for plant-based eaters, you can still get plenty of this important nutrient from fortified foods and by spending some more time soaking up the sun.
Don’t forget, the daily recommended dose of vitamin D is 600 IU for most people of mature age, so aim for getting that amount from the foods you eat and the time you spend outside. Your body and mind will thank you for it. Now get out there and enjoy some sunshine and vitamin D-rich vegan fare!