Eating Vegan: Getting Enough Vitamin D

Is it possible to get adequate vitamin D on a vegan diet?

Is it possible to get adequate vitamin D on a vegan diet? Here’s everything you need to know about vegan vitamin D and how to get what you need.

Is it possible to get adequate vitamin D on a vegan diet? Here's everything you need to know about vegan vitamin D and how to get what you need.

When you go vegan, you might get questions about vegan vitamin D sources and their quality. It’s actually not just vegans who struggle to meet daily requirements for vitamin D, though. Many people are deficient in this vitamin: one that is critical to bone health. In fact, one study estimated that 75 percent of Americans don’t get adequate vitamin D, and you know that three fourths of Americans aren’t vegan right now.

Why do we need vitamin D?

Calcium gets all the cred as the bone vitamin, but you actually need to balance your calcium with adequate vitamin D and magnesium for truly healthy bones. Vitamin D helps reduce your risk of osteoporisis.

There’s some evidence that adequate vitamin D can protect us from prostate, breast, and colon cancers. It may even reduce your overall cancer risk. There is also some preliminary evidence that vitamin D could help treat type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

How much vitamin D do we need?

Like all vitamins, your needs vary depending on your gender and stage of life. Here’s a chart showing the daily vitamin D requirements.

Here's a chart showing the daily vitamin D requirements.

It’s also possible to get too much vitamin D. The upper limits for this vitamin also vary by gender and stage of life. Make sure that your daily vitamin D intake doesn’t exceed:

It's also possible to get too much vitamin D. The upper limits for this vitamin also vary by gender and stage of life.

D-ciphering: Vitamin D2 vs. Vitamin D3

There are actually two forms of vitamin D:

  1. Vitamin D2
  2. Vitamin D3

Vitamin D2 is plant-based, and D3 generally comes from animal sources. You might hear that D3 is easier for your body to absorb, but vegans can absolutely get enough vitamin D from eating fortified and D-rich foods (more on that below!) or from taking a vitamin D2 supplement.

There are also vegan vitamin D3 supplements available now, derived from algae. I like this one from VegLife, because it’s a brand that I trust.

Vegans aren’t the only people who should consider supplementing with vitamin D. Many adults don’t get enough of this vitamin, either. The best way to find out if you need a supplement? Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels at your next checkup! It’s a simple blood test.

The Sunshine Vitamin

One good way to get in your vitamin D is actually totally unrelated to food: get outdoors without sunscreen for a little while each day. Vitamin D is “the sunshine vitamin,” and in theory you can get enough just from sun exposure.

The trouble is, we don’t all get outside enough to absorb all of that sunny D, and if you wear sunscreen, you’re missing out on much of that benefit. It can also be hard for people with darker skin to absorb enough vitamin D from the sun, since melanin is a natural sunscreen.

Is vegan vitamin D as good as animal-derived?

You may have heard that the best sources of dietary vitamin D are dairy products and fish, but that’s not necessarily true. According to Ginny Messina, a vegan nutritionist:

Technically, omnivores can get it from fish, but they would have to eat fish daily which is certainly not practical for most or a responsible and sustainable choice.  And most fortified foods don’t have enough to meet needs; you’d need to drink 6 cups daily of cow’s milk or plant milk to meet the RDA for vitamin D.

That is a lot of milk and fish! You can see why anyone – vegan or not – could need a little help getting adequate vitamin D.

Vitamin D from Mushrooms

It’s not news that mushrooms contain a bit of vitamin D, but a new study shows that ‘shrooms might be an even more promising source of D than we thought! A recent study found that eating mushrooms can help boost your vitamin D just as well as animal foods.

That doesn’t mean you can throw some ‘shrooms on your next salad and not worry about vitamin D requirements. If you don’t get a lot of sun exposure, and you’re not eating fortified foods, then you might want to talk to your doctor about testing your vitamin D levels. When I was pregnant, I became vitamin D deficient in my third trimester, which is common in a lot of pregnant women, and taking a daily vitamin D supplement on top of my prenatal vitamin did the trick in just a couple of weeks.

Image Credits Creative Commons photo by photophilde.

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