When it comes to nutritional deficiencies, we tend to look at our diets and what foods or food groups we're not eating enough of. In some cases, we can blame deficiencies on medical issues (like poor absorption). But in one specific vitamin's case, the cause is fairly simple: It's the lack of sunshine.
We can meet most of our vitamin and mineral needs through our diet but we heavily rely on the sun as a source for vitamin D. So what do we during the winter months, when there are days and even weeks of minimal sunshine? Supplementation is certainly a valid answer and one to be considered year-round, but adding in vitamin D-rich foods is also a healthy — and tastier — way to help you meet your needs.
Vitamin D Is Called the 'Sunshine Vitamin' for a Reason
Between 50 and 90 percent of our vitamin D needs are provided by the sun, more specifically via the UVB rays the sun emits, according to a January 2010 study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences. This makes getting enough sun crucial.
So what qualifies as "enough?" The Cleveland Clinic recommends just 15 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight about three times a week. This illustrates how much more efficient it can be to get your vitamin D from the sun, especially when you consider that most foods are not naturally high in adequate amounts of the vitamin.
During the winter months, if you live north of the 37th parallel — in other words, north of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee — you're at a much greater risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency because of the lack of UVB rays during this time of year, per Harvard Health Publishing. This is why about 40 percent of Americans are deficient in the nutrient, as reported in a June 2018 Cureus paper.
That's why it's so important to pay special attention to your diet and make sure you get enough D in the winter. Fish and seafood are some of the top foods that contain the vitamin along with egg yolks, fortified milk and yogurt and even certain mushrooms. To help avoid this common deficiency, try these five recipes featuring delicious vitamin D-rich foods this winter.
1. Smoked Salmon Avocado Toast
And better yet, this toast recipe includes half of an avocado, which is rich in healthy fats. Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, the fats from the avocado help increase absorption. We're also fans of the sprouted grain bread called for in this dish. Sprouted grains increase the vitamin C, B vitamins (such as folate), fiber and protein content of the grain.
2. Chicken With Mushroom, Kale and Yuzu Salad
Mushrooms are one of the most delicious and versatile ingredients to cook with. And when they are exposed to UV lights (they'll be labeled as so on the packaging in the store) they can have about 8 IUs per half-cup. Morel and chanterelle mushrooms, on the other hand, have about 1 percent of the DV naturally.
This warm and savory dish combines kale, mustard greens, rotisserie chicken (weeknight shortcut), nori, cucumber, sesame seeds, a yuzu dressing along with a soft-boiled egg and a whole cup of mushrooms. In place of the regular brown mushrooms in this recipe, look to swap them for those that have been exposed to UV light or chanterelles or morels (depending on the season) for extra D. The egg yolk also gives this dish a vitamin D boost.
3. Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal Parfait
This pie-inspired parfait also features rolled oats, a solid source of soluble fiber, which been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and support stable blood sugars according to the Mayo Clinic. Pumpkin purée, aka canned pumpkin, is another powerhouse ingredient thanks in part to its fiber and beta-carotene offerings.
4. Southwestern Egg Scramble
Eggs, especially the yolk, are the vitamin D stand-out in this recipe. One egg yolk has 6 percent of the DV of vitamin D and this recipe calls for two whole eggs. Plus, the healthy fats from the half avocado you're adding to the dish will help you to better absorb the vitamin D from the yolk.
What we also love about this dish is that it includes black beans, which help round out this dish by adding healthy carbs (read: lots of fiber) and protein. Aside from the 22 grams of protein, this dish boasts 11 grams of fiber — which is about half to one-third of your needs.
5. Tangy Tuna Salad Collard Wrap
This healthy twist on the classic tuna salad sandwich ups the flavor game while still delivering on a solid dose of vitamin D. Like a lot of other seafood, tuna is rich in vitamin D. In fact, can of light tuna has 11 percent of the DV.
What we love about this recipe is that it calls for collard greens instead of a traditional wrap, which bumps up the vitamin C content (also helpful in the winter) and folate while reducing overall carbs and calories for those trying to lose weight.
- FoodData Central: "Fish, Salmon, Pink, Cooked, Dry Heat"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin D"
- Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020: "Appendix 12. Food Sources of Vitamin D"
- FoodData Central: "Milk, Nonfat, Fluid, With Added Vitamin A and Vitamin D (Fat Free or Skim)"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet"
- FoodData Central: "Pumpkin, Canned, Without Salt"
- FoodData Central: "Egg, Yolk, Raw, Fresh"
- FoodData Central: "Fish, Tuna, Light, Canned in Water, Drained Solids"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Time for More Vitamin D"
- Cureus: "Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency and Associated Risk Factors in the US Population (2011-2012)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Vitamin D Deficiency"
- International Journal of Health Sciences: "Vitamin D Deficiency - An Ignored Epidemic"