Vitamin D is getting its day in the sun, and it is well deserved. Known, quite literally, as the sunshine vitamin, this mighty nutrient plays a key role in the health of our bones, nerves, immune systems and more.
While you can get the vitamin from certain food sources, the sun is the main supplier, which can make it challenging to get enough. That's where supplements come in.
Here's what to know before you take one, including how to choose the best vitamin D supplements for your health goals.
Best Vitamin D Supplements
- Best Overall: Nature Made Vitamin D3 ($10.49, Amazon)
- Best Gummy: Nature Made D3 Adult Gummies ($25.99, Amazon)
- Best on a Budget: Naturewise Vitamin D3 ($13.99, Naturewise)
- Best Organic: Garden of Life mykind Organics Vegan D3 Chewable ($12.99, Amazon)
- Best Vegetarian: MegaFood Vitamin D3 ($20.82, MegaFood)
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is both a hormone and a vitamin. When sunlight hits your skin, it is converted to an active form of vitamin D that can be absorbed by the body. It is called a fat-soluble vitamin because it needs fat to be absorbed in the small intestine, where most of your nutrients are absorbed, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
You may have heard of the two forms of vitamin D — D2 and D3. Both are beneficial to the body in raising vitamin D status and there is inconclusive evidence to support the use of one over the other. The National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests that at low doses (1,000 IU), their effectiveness is identical, but in high doses, D3 may be more beneficial.
Food Sources of Vitamin D
There are very few natural food sources of vitamin D. Mushrooms grown in UV light have vitamin D (look for a note about that on the mushrooms' packaging).
Other dietary sources of vitamin D include:
- Salmon, tuna, trout, sardines
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods: Milk, orange juice, breakfast cereals
Do I Need a Supplement?
Anyone over the age of 1 needs 600 IU of vitamin D every day, and adults over 70 need 800 IU per day, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
You only need about five minutes outside with your arms and legs exposed, twice a week, to get enough vitamin D, per the NIH, but that sun exposure is a double-edged sword: Too much can up your risk for developing skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
If going out in the sun is a no-go and you find it challenging to fit in vitamin D-rich foods, then a supplement may be your best choice.
Keep in mind, though, that more is not always better. You'll never get too much vitamin D from the sun because your body knows how to shut it off, but you can get too much from a supplement. The NIH recommends keeping your daily dose below 4,000 IU. Since most supplements come in 1,000 or 2,000 IU, this shouldn't be an issue.
What to Look for in a Supplement
You have a lot of choices when it comes to vitamin D supplements, so how do you choose? Here's a list of what to look for to get you started.
- Quality: Basically, you want to know if your supplement is what it says it is and works as advertised, meaning it properly dissolves in your body when it's supposed to. Dietary supplements aren't tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but it does set Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) for companies to follow. Brands can also choose to seek a third-party verification from Consumer Lab, U.S. Pharmacopeia or NSF International. If a supplement brand uses CGMPs and/or has been third-party tested, it will often be listed on the product's label or website.
- Strength: Most vitamin D supplements will only come in 1,000 IU or 2,000 IU, but you will find some with more than that. It's best to stick to the recommendation and stay below 4,000 IU unless your doctor has indicated that you need it — in that case, you will most likely be given a prescription.
- Type of supplement: Vitamin D supplements are available in tablets, softgels, drops and gummies or chews. Typically, infants are prescribed drops in low doses, but you have the choice to take your vitamin D however you choose. There are higher-dose drops for adults who have difficulty swallowing pills. This will be indicated on the packaging.
Before adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet, talk to your health care provider. He or she will probably order a blood test to see if you are deficient and can give you an adequate dosage based on your current levels.
Benefits of Vitamin D Supplements
Researchers have been studying vitamin D and its effects on the body and have gathered some pretty impressive findings. Here are some benefits of getting enough vitamin D.
- Stronger bones: You know that calcium is important for your bones, but eating all that calcium won't do you a bit of good if you don't have enough vitamin D — it helps your body absorb the calcium to keep your bones and teeth strong.
- Healthy immune system: According to April 2020 research published in Nutrients, vitamin D works with the immune system by helping to increase antimicrobial activity, reduce pro-inflammatory molecules and release ones that fight inflammation. In addition, vitamin D may help enhance glutathione production, a natural antioxidant in the body.
- Defending against cancer: There's no evidence to support the use of supplements to prevent cancer. However, according to Harvard's T. H. Chan School of Public Health, your outcome may be better if you develop cancer and you have adequate levels of vitamin D already. In other words, vitamin D may have an effect on cancer progression, giving you a better chance at beating it.
Symptoms of a Vitamin D Deficiency
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain
- Mood changes
The Best Vitamin D Supplements
If you are unsure of which vitamin D supplement to take, getting a recommendation from your doctor is always a good idea. If that's not an option, here are some good choices:
1. Best Overall: Nature Made Vitamin D3
Nature Made Vitamin D3 is going to be your best bet for both price and quality. This liquid softgel is easy to swallow, gluten-free and does not have any artificial colors or flavors added.
Nature Made D3 supplements are USP-tested for ingredients, potency and manufacturing processes. The 1,000 IU dose is appropriate for anyone wanting to supplement with vitamin D daily.
This supplement does contain soy, though, so if you have an allergy, it's best to try another brand.
Buy it: Nature Made Vitamin D3 ($10.49 for 300 softgels; Amazon)
2. Best Gummy: Nature Made D3 Adult Gummies
Nature Made's gummies get the award for the best vitamin D in candy form.
It can be challenging to find a gummy supplement that meets quality standards. Consumer Lab indicates that gummy vitamins often fail their standards, having too much or too little of a nutrient due to the difficulty in manufacturing. But Nature Made gummies are USP-verified to ensure they contain the amount of the nutrient on the label.
Buy it: Nature Made D3 Adult Gummies ($25.99 for 150 gummies; Amazon)
3. Best on a Budget: Naturewise Vitamin D3
Naturewise Vitamin D3 wins for best on a budget — you get an entire year's supply of vitamin D for less than $15.
This supplement company adheres to third-party testing and CGMPs. This supplement is a good daily dose (1,000 IU) and is also gluten-free, dairy-free and non-GMO.
The company uses olive oil in its supplement instead of soy, so this is also a good choice if allergies are an issue.
Buy it: Naturewise Vitamin D3 ($13.99 for 360 softgels, Naturewise.com)
4. Best Organic: Garden of Life mykind Organics Vegan D3 Chewable
Garden of Life has a reputation for being an organic, vegan and sustainable supplement brand. They are NSF-certified for being gluten-free, non-GMO project verified and kosher.
The vitamin D in this supplement comes from lichen and includes a food blend of flax, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach, as well as an organic mushroom blend.
Each chewable tablet contains 2,000 IU of D3 and one bottle will last you 30 days.
Buy it: Garden of Life mykind Organics Vegan D3 Chewable ($12.99 for 30 chewable tablets, Amazon)
5. Best Vegetarian: MegaFood Vitamin D3
MegaFood Vitamin D3 is a good choice for those following a vegetarian diet.
Since many sources of D3 come from animals, it can be difficult to find one sourced from plants. These supplements are vegetarian, kosher, soy-free, NSF-verified, gluten-free and non-GMO project verified.
They are a pricey option, though, at just over $20 for a two-month supply.
Buy it: MegaFood Vitamin D3 ($20.82 for 60 tablets, MegaFood.com)
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Overview of Vitamin D"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin D"
- Nutrients: "Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Risk of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections and Deaths"
- Consumer Lab: "Gummy Vitamin Concerns"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Vitamin D"
- American Cancer Society: "Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation"