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Publication #FSHN11-02

Shopping for Health: Vitamin D1

Lauren Foster and Wendy J. Dahl2

Why do I need vitamin D?

Vitamin D is an important nutrient for maintaining health. We need vitamin D for calcium absorption, bone strength, muscle strength, and immunity. Vitamin D has also been associated with a decreased risk of certain cancers and chronic diseases (1).

How much vitamin D do I need?

The current recommendation for healthy children, teens, and adults less than 70 years of age is 600 IU per day. Older adults (over 70 years) should aim for 800 IU/day (2). The International Osteoporosis Federation (IOF) recommends 800 to 1000 IU of vitamin D per day for healthy adults (3). An intake of 2000 IU (50 µg) per day is recommended for people who are obese, have osteoporosis, or those with limited sun exposure, such as elderly living in long-term care homes (3). Routine daily intakes of more than 4000 IU are not recommended.

How can I get enough vitamin D?

Vitamin D needs can be met by eating foods containing Vitamin D and taking vitamin supplements. Traditionally, most of our vitamin D has come from sunlight. However, vitamin D produced from the sun may be limited by use of hats, clothing and sun screen. People with darker skin and older adults produce much less vitamin D when exposed to the sun. It is very important to get enough vitamin D from food sources and supplements.

Food Sources of Vitamin D

Natural Sources

There are very few natural sources of dietary vitamin D. Preferred sources include fatty fishes and eggs. Fish liver oils and liver are not recommended.

Enriched Foods

Mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet B light are good sources of vitamin D. Bread and yeast-raised bakery products can be prepared with high vitamin D yeast and become natural sources of vitamin D.

Fortified Foods

Foods fortified with vitamin D are the largest contributors of dietary vitamin D. These foods include milk and some yogurts, breakfast cereals and other grains, orange juice, and margarine.

Shopping Tips

When shopping for foods with vitamin D, be sure to read the nutrition facts panel on food labels, as similar foods may contain different amounts of vitamin D. Varieties of a specific brand may not all be fortified the same. It is important to read the label carefully to determine how much vitamin D is in the food you are buying.

Figure 1 provides an example of a nutrition facts panel. The vitamin D content is listed as a percent of the Daily Value (DV) of 400 IU. For example, if the nutrition facts label on a food indicates it provides 10% of the DV of vitamin D, it means that the food provides 40 IU of vitamin D per serving.

Figure 1. 

Nutrition Facts Panel for Chocolate Milk


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Cereal

Many breakfast cereals are fortified with 10% or 40 IU of vitamin D per serving. Some cereals may contain up to 140 IU per serving, and others may not be fortified at all. Table 1 lists some examples of cereals and their levels of fortification.

Table 1. 

Vitamin D contents of various breakfast cereals

Breakfast Cereal

Vitamin D (IU/serving)

General Mills: Cheerios®, Wheaties®, Total®, Chex®

40

Kellogg's: Rice Crispies®, Raisin Bran®, Froot Loops®, Frosted Flakes®, All-Bran®

40

Kellogg's Meuslix®

16

Quaker: Life®, Cap'n Crunch®, Oatmeal Squares®, Oh's!®

0

Kellogg's Mini-Wheats®

0

Kashi: Go Lean®, Cinnamon Harvest®, Whole Grain Puffs®

0

IU = International Units

Milk

Milk is fortified with 100 IU vitamin D per cup, regardless of the fat content of the milk. Lactose-free milk and chocolate milk are fortified with 100 IU per cup as well. Soy milk is usually fortified, but not always. For example, Silk® Soy Milk is fortified with 125 IU per cup.

As vitamin D is a stable compound that is not lost during cooking, storage, or processing, foods prepared at home with milk will also contain vitamin D.

Yogurt

The fortification of yogurts varies greatly among different brands and types. Table 2 lists a sample of different yogurts and their levels of fortification.

Table 2. 

Vitamin D contents of selected yogurts

Yogurt

Vitamin D (IU/serving)

Weight Watchers® Lowfat Yogurt (6 oz)

120

Dannon Frusion® Yogurt Smoothies (7 oz)

100

Dannon Light & Fit® Lowfat Yogurt (6 oz)

80

Yoplait® Light and Original Varieties (6 oz)

80

Stoneyfield Farm® Organic Lowfat or Fat-Free Yogurt (6 oz)

80

Fiber One® Yogurt (4 oz)

60

Dannon Light & Fit® Family Pack Yogurt (6 oz)

40

Yoplait Whips® (4 oz)

40

Stoneyfield Farm® Organic Whole-Milk Yogurt

0

Activia® (4 oz)

0

IU = International Units

Cheese

As with yogurt, cheeses vary in their vitamin D content. Cheeses do not naturally contain vitamin D, but some are fortified. Table 3 lists some examples of cheeses that have been fortified with vitamin D. Your local grocer may offer other varieties that also are fortified.

Table 3. 

Vitamin D contents of fortified cheeses

Cheese

Vitamin D (IU/serving)

Kraft Singles® 2% American slices

40

Kraft Singles Calci-3® American and White American slices

60

Borden Triple Calcium Singles® American slices

60

IU = International Units

Margarine

Not all margarines are fortified with vitamin D. Fortified varieties contain 60 IU of vitamin D per serving in the U.S. Table 4 lists some fortified margarines. It is important to remember that specific brands may offer both fortified and non-fortified options.

Table 4. 

Vitamin D contents of fortified margarines

Margarine

Vitamin D (IU/serving)

Smart Balance® Buttery Spread and Low-Sodium Buttery Spread

60

Fleischmann's® Original and Light Margarine

60

Country Crock® Spread Plus Vitamins and Minerals

60

Promise Activ® Buttery Spread

60

IU = International Units

Fish

Fish is one of the few sources of naturally occurring vitamin D. Fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, is the best source of vitamin D. Lean fish, such as cod, contains much lower amounts of vitamin D. Also, consider that wild-caught fishes are more likely to have higher vitamin D contents (4). Table 5 lists fish varieties with various vitamin D contents (5). Although fish liver oils contain vitamin D, they are not recommended due to their very high vitamin A contents (6).

Table 5. 

Vitamin D contents of fish

Fish

Vitamin D

(IU/3oz serving)

Sockeye Salmon, Wild

620

Atlantic Mackerel

550

Bluefin Tuna

200

Atlantic Sardines, canned in oil

140

Yellowfin Tuna

40

Atlantic or Pacific Cod

30

IU = International Units

oz = ounce

Shopping for Supplements

Supplementation is encouraged for people with low intakes of vitamin D, particularly the elderly. Vitamin D is available for over-the-counter purchase as a component of multivitamins or in a stand-alone form. Many calcium supplements provide vitamin D as well. Supplements vary, but typically contain 400 IU to 2000 IU. Table 6 lists various supplements and their vitamin D contents.

Table 6. 

Vitamin D contents of supplements

Supplement

Vitamin D (IU/tablet)

Nature Made® Multivitamins

1000

One-A-Day® Women's Health Multivitamins

800

One-a-Day® Multivitamins

400

Sundown Naturals® Vitamin D Tablets

400

Viactiv® Calcium Chews

200

IU = International Units

Be an Informed Shopper!

The key to optimizing your dietary vitamin D intake is to read food labels while shopping! Few foods are consistent in their levels of vitamin D. You must be proactive in finding brands that will meet your vitamin D needs.

Where can I get more information?

The Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) agent at your county Extension office may have more written information and nutrition classes for you to attend. Also, a registered dietitian (RD) can provide you with reliable information. Reliable nutrition information may be found on the Internet at the following sites:

http://www.eatright.org

http://www.nutrition.gov

References

1. Whiting SJ, Calvo MS, Stephensen CB. Current Understanding of Vitamin D Metabolism, Nutritional Status, and Role in Disease Prevention. Nutrition in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease, 2nd ed. 2008; Ch. 43: 807–832.

2. IOM. 2010. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13050

3. Dawson-Hughes B, Mithal A, Bonjour J-P, Boonen S, Burckhardt P, Fuleihan G E-H, Josse RG, Lips P, Morales-Torres J, Yoshimura J. 2010. IOF position statement: vitamin D recommendations for older adults Osteoporos Int. Published online: April 27 2010. http://www.iofbonehealth.org/download/osteofound/filemanager/health_professionals/pdf/endorsed-papers/vitamin-d-position-statement.pdf [May 9, 2012:] http://www.iofbonehealth.org/bonehealth/new-vitamin-d-recommendations-older-men-and-women

4. Lu Z, Chen TC, Zhang A, Persons KS, Kohn N, Berkowitz R, Martinello S, Holick MF. An evaluation of the vitamin D3 content in fish: Is the vitamin D content adequate to satisfy the dietary requirement for vitamin D? J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2007 Mar;103(3–5):642–644.

5. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. [2011]. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, [Release 23.] Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.ars.usda.gov/services/docs.htm?docid=8964

6. Cannell JJ, Vieth R, Willett W, Zasloff M, Hathcock JN, White JH, Tanumihardjo SA, Larson-Meyer DE, Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Lamberg-Allardt CJ, Lappe JM, Norman AW, Zittermann A, Whiting SJ, Grant WB, Hollis BW, Giovannucci E. Cod liver oil, vitamin A toxicity, frequent respiratory infections, and the vitamin D deficiency epidemic. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2008 Nov;117(11):864–870.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FSHN11-02, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Published May 2011. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/.

2.

Lauren Foster, BS, and Wendy J. Dahl, PhD, assistant professor; Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; University of Florida; Gainesville 32611.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS does not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication does not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.