The Sunshine Vitamin

Foods with Vitamin D

Image: Photka/ShutterStock

By: Rise Morisato, CSUN Dietetic Intern

Vitamin D, often called the sunshine vitamin, is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in keeping our bones healthy. If you live in an area with sun exposure all year, such as sunny California, a vitamin D deficiency may be one of the last things on your mind. However, studies have shown that vitamin D deficiencies are a public health problem, even in traditionally sunny areas.1


Sources of Vitamin D

You may see vitamin D in two forms: D2 and D3. Vitamin D3, is provided through a limited number of animal foods, including liver, eggs, cheeses, butter, and fatty fish such as herring, salmon, tuna and sardines. On the other hand, vitamin D2 comes from plant sources and is naturally found in mushrooms. Given that there are a limited number of foods in the United States that contain vitamin D, foods like milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, and breakfast cereals are often fortified with vitamin D. In addition to dietary sources, vitamin D3 can also be made by our bodies when our skin is exposed to UVB rays.2

Health Benefits of Vitamin D

Maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D in the body provides numerous health benefits. Vitamin D helps our bodies to absorb the calcium we eat in our diet, which helps to keep our bones and muscles strong. This is important for maintaining proper growth in children, and decreasing the risk of falls and fractures in the elderly.3 In fact, adequate vitamin D and calcium intake along with exercise during childhood helps to maximize bone mineral content. Achieving maximum bone mineral content during childhood and maintaining peak bone mineral density throughout adulthood is important for reducing risk of fractures that can occur later in life.4  Research shows that vitamin D may do more than just keeping our bones strong and healthy. In fact, low vitamin D may be associated with a number of conditions including cancer, heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, autoimmune diseases, depression and other neurological diseases.3,5 However, more research is needed to confirm these associations.

What You Can Do To Increase Your Levels

Getting 10-15 minutes of direct sun exposure without protection should be sufficient to produce enough vitamin D.4 After this 10-15-minute period of direct sun exposure, sun protection is needed. People with a naturally dark skin tone have natural protection from the sun and require 3-5 times longer exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as an individual with a fair skin tone.3 Incorporating more foods that contain vitamin D into your diet can be another way to increase your vitamin D intake. Vitamin D is measured in international units (IU) and it’s recommended that adults get 600 IU per day.6 Three ounces (oz.) of cooked salmon provides 447 IU, 3 oz. of raw shiitake mushrooms gives 178 IU, 6 oz. of fortified yogurt gives 80 IU, and 1 cup of fortified milk gives 115 IU, just to name a few!7

Consider trying this recipe that is high in vitamin D. Certain types of salmon may contain more vitamin D than others, but 6 oz. of sockeye salmon will provide about 900 IU.8

salmon recipe

Image: Cattalin/Pixabay

Maple-Glazed Salmon9

Prep Time: 1 min
Cook Time: 10 min
Yield: 2 servings (serving size: 1 fillet)


  • 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 tsp. black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 2 salmon fillets ((6 oz each, about 1 inch thick)
  • Cooking spray


  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Combine the first 4 ingredients into a small bowl; stir with a whisk.
  3. Place salmon, skin side down, on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Brush with maple mixture.
  4. Broil salmon, brush with maple mixture at 5 minutes and again at 10 minutes. Broil for a total of 10-12 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:9

  • Calories: 320
  • Fat: 13.6 g
  • Saturated Fat: 3.2 g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 5.8 g
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 3.4 g
  • Protein: 36.6 g
  • Carbohydrates: 10.7 g
  • Fiber: 0.3 g
  • Cholesterol: 87 mg
  • Iron: 0.9 mg
  • Sodium: 273 mg
  • Calcium: 34 mg


  1. Palacios C, Gonzalez L. Is vitamin D deficiency a major global public health problem? The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 2014;144:138-145. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2013.11.003
  2. Gropper SS, Smith JL. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. 6th Ed. Belmont, OH: Cengage Learning; 2012.
  3. Nair R, Maseeh A. Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012;3(2):118-126. doi:10.4103/0976-500X.95506
  4. Hossein-nezhad A, Holick MF. Vitamin D for health: a global perspective. Mayo Clin Proc. 2013;88(7):720-755. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.05.011
  5. Taylor CL, Sempos CT, Davis CD, Brannon PM. Vitamin D: Moving Forward to Address Emerging Science. Nutrients. 2017;9(12). doi:10.3390/nu912130
  6. Mahan LK, Raymond JL, eds. Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process. Fourteenth edition. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier; 2017.
  7. Webb D. Vitamin D and Cancer — Evidence Suggests This Vital Nutrient May Cut Risk. Today’s Dietitian. Published 2018. Accessed October 27, 2018.
  8. Quittner E. 9 Recipes That Contain Vitamin D. Accessed October 27, 2018.
  9. Maple-Glazed Salmon. MyRecipes. Accessed October 27, 2018.

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