Shopping for Health: Vitamin D1

Lauren Foster and Wendy J. Dahl 2

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 many chronic diseases (Battault et al. 2013).

How much vitamin D do I need?

The recommendation for healthy children, teens, and adults less than 70 years of age is 600 IU per day (Institute of Medicine 2010). Older adults (over 70 years) should aim for 800 IU/day (Institute of Medicine 2010). The International Osteoporosis Federation (IOF) recommends 800 to 1000 IU of vitamin D per day for healthy adults (Dawson-Hughes et al. 2010). An intake of 2000 IU (50 µg) per day is recommended for people with obesity, have osteoporosis, or those with limited sun exposure, such as elderly living in long-term care homes (Dawson-Hughes et al. 2010). Routine daily intakes of more than 4000 IU are not recommended (Institute of Medicine 2010).

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 sunscreen. 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 fish and eggs.

Enriched Foods

Bread and other yeast-raised bakery products can be prepared with high vitamin D yeast high in vitamin D and become natural sources of vitamin D (Calvo and Whiting 2013). Mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet B light are good sources of vitamin D (Calvo and Whiting 2013).

Fortified Foods

Foods fortified with vitamin D are the largest contributors of dietary vitamin D (Calvo and Whiting 2013). 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. 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.
Figure 1.  Nutrition Facts panel for chocolate milk.


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


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 usually is fortified, but not always. For example, Silk® Chocolate Soy Milk is fortified with 120 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.


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


As with yogurt and milk, cheese does not naturally contain vitamin D, and few are fortified. Check the Nutrition Panel to identify those brands that are fortified.


Not all margarines are fortified with vitamin D. Table 3 lists some fortified margarines. It is important to remember that specific brands may offer both fortified and non-fortified options.


Fish is one of the few good 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 fish are more likely to have higher vitamin D contents (USDA-ARS 2011). Table 4 lists fish varieties with various vitamin D contents Although fish liver oils contain vitamin D, they are not recommended as sources of vitamin D due to their very high vitamin A contents (Cannell et al. 2008).

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.

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 local UF/IFAS Extension office may have more written information and nutrition classes for you to attend. A registered dietitian (RD) also can provide you with reliable information. Reliable nutrition information may be found on the Internet at the following sites:


Battault, S., S. J. Whiting, S. L. Peltier, S. Sadrin, G. Gerber, and J. M. Maixent. 2013. "Vitamin D metabolism, functions and needs: from science to health claims." 52(2):429–41.

Calvo, M. S. and S. J. Whiting. 2013. "Survey of Current Vitamin D Food Fortification Practices in the United States and Canada." J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 136:211–3.

Cannell, J. J., R. Vieth, W. Willett, M. Zasloff, J. N. Hathcock, J. H. White, S. A. Tanumihardjo, D. E. Larson-Meyer, H. A. Bischoff-Ferrari, C. J. Lamberg-Allardt, J. M. Lappe, A. W. Norman, A. Zittermann, S. J. Whiting, W. B. Grant, B. W. Hollis, and E. Giovannucci. 2008. "Cod Liver Oil, Vitamin A Toxicity, Frequent Respiratory Infections, and the Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic." Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol 117(11):864–870.

Dawson-Hughes, B., A. Mithal, J-P Bonjour, S. Boonen, P. Burckhardt, GE-H Fuleihan, R. G. Josse, P. Lips, J. Morales-Torres, and N. Yoshimura. "IOF Position Statement: Vitamin D Recommendations for Older Adults." Osteoporosis International 21, no. 7 (07, 2010): 1151–1154. doi:

Holick, M. F. 2017. "The vitamin D deficiency pandemic: Approaches for diagnosis, treatment and prevention." Rev Endocr Metab Disord 18 (2):153–165. doi: 10.1007/s11154-017-9424-1.

Institute of Medicine. 2010. "Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D." (July 2016)

Lu, Z., T. C. Chen, A. Zhang, K. S. Persons, N. Kohn, R. Berkowitz, S. Martinello, and M. F. Holick. 2007. "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 103(3–5):642–644.

Schmid, A., and B. Walther. 2013. "Natural vitamin D content in animal products." Adv Nutr 4(4):453–62. doi: 10.3945/an.113.003780

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). 2018. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference [Release 23.]


Table 1. 

Vitamin D contents of various breakfast cereals.

Breakfast Cereal

Vitamin D (IU/serving)

Total® (1 cup)


All-Bran® (1 cup)


Rice Krispies® (1 ¼ cup)


Frosted Flakes® (1 cup)


Raisin Bran® (1 cup)


Cheerios® (1 cup), Wheaties® (1 cup), Rice Chex (1 cup) ®, Froot Loops® (1 cup)


Kellogg's Meuslix® (1 cup)


Life®, Cap'n Crunch®, Oatmeal Squares®, Honey Graham Oh's!® (1 cup)


Kellogg's Mini-Wheats® (1 cup)


Go Lean Crunch!® (1 cup), Cinnamon Harvest® (1 cup), Whole Grain Puffs® (1 ¼ cup)


IU = International Units

Table 2. 

Vitamin D contents of selected yogurts


Vitamin D (IU/serving)

Stoneyfield Farm® Organic Whole-Milk Yogurt (8 oz)


Dannon Frusion® Yogurt Smoothies (7 oz)


Yoplait® Light and Original Varieties (6 oz)


Stoneyfield Farm® Smooth and Creamy Organic Nonfat Yogurt (6 oz)


Dannon Light & Fit® Nonfat Yogurt (6 oz)


Dannon Activia® (4 oz)


Dannon Light & Fit® 50 Calorie Pack Yogurt (4 oz)


Yoplait Whips® (4 oz)


IU = International Units

Table 3. 

Vitamin D contents of fortified margarines


Vitamin D (IU/serving)

Smart Balance® Buttery Spread and Low-Sodium Buttery Spread (1 tbsp)


Country Crock® Calcium plus Vitamin D (1 tbsp)


Promise Activ® Buttery Spread (1 tbsp)


IU = International Units

Table 4. 

Vitamin D contents of fish


Vitamin D (IU/serving)

Atlantic Mackerel (3 oz)


Sockeye Salmon (3 oz)


Bluefin Tuna (3 oz)


Atlantic Sardines, canned in oil (3 oz)


Yellowfin Tuna (3 oz)


Pacific or Atlantic Cod (3 oz)


IU = International Units


1. This document is FSHN11-02, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date May 2011. Revised February 2015 and July 2018. Visit the EDIS website at
2. Lauren Foster, BS; and Wendy J. Dahl, PhD, assistant professor; Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 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.

Publication #FSHN11-02

Date: 2018-08-01
Foster, Lauren

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