13 Foods High in Vitamin D for a Healthy Immune System

Fish — including salmon — are prime sources of vitamin D as well as quality protein.
Image Credit: gbh007/iStock/GettyImages

Vitamin D is commonly known as the "sunshine vitamin" because our bodies produce it when our skin is exposed to sunlight. The nutrient is responsible for maintaining strong bones and a healthy immune system, among other benefits, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In fact, vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher risk of getting COVID-19, per a September 2020 study in ​JAMA Network Open​. And about 50 percent of the world's population — an estimated 1 billion people — is deficient in D, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics.

Advertisement

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

The recommended intake of vitamin D is 20 micrograms (mcg) for adults and children 4 years and older, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There are two types of vitamin D:

  1. Vitamin D3​ (cholecalciferol) is the type your body makes when it's exposed to sunlight. It's also present in foods such as fatty fish.
  2. Vitamin D2​ (ergocalciferol) is found in some plants such as certain types of mushrooms.

The best way to get vitamin D is via sunlight, but you can get enough vitamin D from food. That said, there aren't many foods naturally high in vitamin D, so many household staples are fortified with it to help make up for deficiencies in the American diet, per the NIH. Milk, for example, is fortified with a standard amount of 3 micrograms — even most plant-based milk varieties are, too.

Advertisement

Add this list of foods high in vitamin D to your shopping cart. Note that the Daily Value (DV) percentages below are based on eating 20 micrograms per day.

1. Trout: 33.6 mcg, 168% Daily Value (DV)

Cook vitamin D-rich trout with lemon and fresh herbs for a low-carb, high-protein meal.
Image Credit: VICUSCHKA/Moment/GettyImages

This freshwater fish is known for its mild flavor and creamy, delicate texture. It's a wonderful source of vitamin D, offering up 168 percent of your DV in a cooked 6-ounce fillet. It also scores you omega-3s, which are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, per the American Heart Association.

Advertisement

Is Swordfish High in Vitamin D?

A cooked 6-ounce fillet has 149 percent of your DV of vitamin D. However, the FDA urges avoiding swordfish as it contains high levels of mercury.

2. Sockeye Salmon: 28.4 mcg, 142% DV

Like trout, this popular fatty fish is one of the best foods high in D3, with 142 percent of your DV in a cooked 6-ounce fillet. Salmon also provides protein and heart-protective omega-3s.

3. Cremini Mushrooms: 27.8 mcg, 139% DV

Add vitamin D-rich cremini mushrooms to stir-fries, salads or pasta dishes.
Image Credit: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages

Few vegetables are high in vitamin D, with mushrooms being the exception. Just like humans, when exposed to sunlight, mushrooms synthesize vitamin D2, which makes them a rich source of the nutrient, per a June 2013 study in ​Food Chemical Toxicology.​ Wild mushrooms like cremini are your best bet, providing 139 percent of your DV in 1 raw cup.

Advertisement

Tip

If you're buying mushrooms for their vitamin D content, check the label for "exposed to sunlight" and the nutrition facts to ensure the veggie contains D.

4. Portobello Mushrooms: 24.4 mcg, 122% DV

Just after cremini mushrooms comes portobello mushrooms, a go-to meat alternative and vegan food high in vitamin D. Portobello mushrooms offer almost as much vitamin D as cremini, with 122 percent of your DV per raw cup. They, too, synthesize the nutrient when exposed to sunlight, so look for that on the label.

5. Gefilte Fish: 20.7 mcg, 103% DV

An impressive 65 percent of the calories in gefilte fish come from protein.
Image Credit: yula/iStock/GettyImages

This poached combination of ground, deboned fish is a common dish among Ashkenazi Jewish households. It's very high in vitamin D, accounting for 103 percent of your DV in one cup. It also packs nearly 40 grams of satiating protein.

6. Smoked Whitefish: 17.4 mcg, 87% DV

Salty, smoked whitefish is an excellent source of vitamin D, serving up 87 percent of your DV in one cup. It's also high in protein, vitamin B12, copper and selenium.

7. Halibut: 9.9 mcg, 49% DV

This mild-tasting fish contains 49 percent of your DV of vitamin D in a cooked 6-ounce serving, as well as B vitamins, magnesium and potassium.

8. Sardines: 8.2 mcg, 41% DV

Sardines are easy to come by, as they're often canned, and incredibly nutritious. One 6-ounce serving provides 41 percent of your DV of vitamin D, while a 3.75-ounce can gives you 22 percent of your DV. Try them in these sardine recipes that don't taste fishy.

9. Tilapia: 6.3 mcg, 31% DV

Tilapia is one of the top foods high in D3, offering 31 percent of your DV in a cooked 6-ounce serving. You'll also get almost 45 grams of muscle-building protein.

10. Extra-Firm Fortified Tofu: 5.7 mcg, 28% DV

This protein-packed meat alternative is rich in a host of nutrients, including calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. One cup offers up 28 percent of your DV of vitamin D. Try it in these anything-but-bland tofu recipes.

11. Morel Mushrooms: 3.4 mcg, 17% DV

Morel mushrooms are rare due to the short growing season, but they contain both iron and vitamin D.
Image Credit: DWalker44/iStock/GettyImages

These mushrooms might be harder to find than other varieties such as cremini, portobello and button, but if you're able to score them, you'll reap plenty of nutrients. One cup of raw morel mushrooms gives you 17 percent of your DV of vitamin D and 45 percent of your DV of iron.

12. Cow's Milk: 3.2 mcg, 16% DV

Cow's milk, whether it's full-fat or skim, is fortified with vitamin D. An 8-ounce glass contains 16 percent of your DV along with a host of other nutrients including calcium and vitamins A and B12.

13. Soy Milk: 2.9 mcg, 15% DV

If you're avoiding dairy, soy milk is a superb alternative to cow's milk: It contains 15 percent of your DV for vitamin D and about 7 grams of protein in an 8-ounce glass. Contrary to popular belief, there is no established link between the isoflavones — plant compounds that act like estrogen in the body — found in soy and breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Advertisement

references