Smart Ideas for Getting More Vitamin D Right Now

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient, but many people don’t get enough. Here are some ways to fill that gap today.

Vitamin D—aka the sunshine vitamin—is an essential nutrient, but getting enough of it through food alone remains a challenge for many of us. When it’s time for your annual blood work, you may be surprised when your test results reveal low levels of vitamin D. Fortunately, while some essential nutrients can only be acquired through food, vitamin D isn’t one of them. There are several ways to get vitamin D—even one method involving your body producing it—but if it were easy, vitamin D deficiency wouldn’t be as common as it is. Here are some proven ways to get more vitamin D, any time of year.

Vitamin D rich foods like salmon, eggs, mushrooms, etc.

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You Need Vitamin D, But It’s Not So Easy to Get Enough of It

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a few critical roles in the body. It’s associated with bone health and increased absorption of minerals like calcium and phosphorus, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. When vitamin D levels are low, you may experience symptoms like brittle bones and muscle weakness, per the National Library of Medicine. Some people also report experiencing tiredness and depression, while others experience no symptoms at all.

Still, billions of people are getting less than the recommended amount of vitamin D. According to the Cleveland Clinic, an estimated 35% of U.S. adults are deficient in vitamin D, and about 50% of the global population is insufficient in the nutrient.

If you’re wondering why low levels of vitamin D are so common, it’s because there are only a few ways to get vitamin D. Per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the three ways to get vitamin D include:

  • The sun
  • Food and drink
  • Supplements

“It is very challenging to get enough vitamin D from our food, as there isn't a huge list of foods that contain this nutrient,” explains registered dietitian Lauren Manaker, RDN. “Though our bodies are able to convert the sun’s UV rays into vitamin D, many of us spend time indoors, use sunscreen, and wear clothes that cover our skin, so we aren’t getting adequate exposure.”

Got Low Vitamin D? Eat More of These Foods

Food is one of the primary ways to get your vitamin D levels up. Some foods naturally contain vitamin D, while others are fortified with added vitamin D.

The USDA recommends the following food sources of vitamin D:

  • Fish like rainbow trout, salmon, canned light tuna, and herring
  • Soy milk
  • Dairy products like low fat milk, nonfat yogurt, low fat kefir, and American cheese
  • Raw mushrooms
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Non-dairy milk like almond milk and rice milk

Other food sources of vitamin D include fortified tofu, eggs, cod liver oil, and fortified cereals.

“Choose Eggland's Best eggs, as they contain six times more vitamin D than ordinary eggs,” Manaker recommends.

Other Ways to Get Your Vitamin D Levels Up

Adding a Source of Fat

If your diet already consists of rich food sources of vitamin D, try adding a source of fat to your meal. A small 2015 study found that the addition of fat significantly increases the absorption of vitamin D, so your body is more likely to utilize more of the vitamin D you’re already consuming. This could look like rubbing olive oil into your salmon filet before cooking it or adding some almond butter and flax seeds to a yogurt parfait.

The Sun

It’s called the “sunshine vitamin” for a reason. Yes, vitamin D comes from the sun, but your body helps out to absorb it. This is often touted as one of the best and most natural ways to get vitamin D, but it’s not without some caveats. 

During the winter months when sunlight is scarce, relying on sunshine for vitamin D isn’t recommended. Depending on your climate, this may not be a realistic option. 

There’s also the increased exposure to harmful UV rays, which dermatologists aren’t fond of.

“I do not recommend patients with low vitamin D levels to spend more time in the sun without first consulting their dermatologist,” says board-certified dermatologist Quynh-Giao Sartor, MD. She reminds us that sun exposure increases the risk for skin cancer and sun damage. 


Dr. Sartor’s advice? Take a supplement under doctor supervision. Supplementation may even be more effective than sun exposure for increasing vitamin D levels, according to a small 2020 clinical trial. Another 2020 trial found sun exposure not effective enough at raising vitamin D to healthy levels, though supplementation was found to show the most improvements.

Taking a vitamin D supplement may not be your first choice, but it’s an effective way to improve levels when other methods may not be available or effective for you.

“If a person continues to have low vitamin D levels after making dietary changes, a supplement may be considered,” Manaker says, adding to check with a healthcare provider on dosage recommendations to avoid over supplementation. Too much vitamin D can be a bad thing, too.

Though food sources of vitamin D are available, it’s very difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone, explains Harvard Medical School. Desk jobs and sunscreen make it even more difficult to get vitamin D from the sun, leaving supplements a viable option for some people. Ultimately, the general solution is two-fold—eat more vitamin D-rich foods like oily fish and take a supplement. With some effort, you may just see higher vitamin D levels the next time you go in for a check-up.

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  2. "Vitamin D Deficiency." MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

  3. "Vitamin D Deficiency." Cleveland Clinic.

  4. Klemm, Sarah. "What Is Vitamin D.", Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

  5. "Food Sources of Vitamin D." Current Dietary Guidelines, Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

  6. Dawson-Hughes, Bess et al. “Dietary fat increases vitamin D-3 absorption.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2014.09.014

  7. Joh, Hee-Kyung et al. “Effect of sun exposure versus oral vitamin D supplementation on serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations in young adults: A randomized clinical trial.” Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland). doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2019.03.021

  8. Lee, Yu Mi et al. “Can Current Recommendations on Sun Exposure Sufficiently Increase Serum Vitamin D Level?: One-Month Randomized Clinical Trial.” Journal of Korean medical science. doi:10.3346/jkms.2020.35.e50

  9. “Vitamin D and your health: Breaking old rules, raising new hopes.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.

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