Vitamin D is primarily absorbed through sunlight and only in small amounts through diet. Nevertheless, foods can also contribute to the supply of vitamin D. We present the most important foods with vitamin D, give the exact vitamin D content and also explain what losses can occur when cooking and frying.
These foods contain vitamin D
When the sun shines on the skin in summer, vitamin D precursors are produced there with the help of UV radiation, which the body can then convert into active vitamin D as required. Food is therefore not absolutely necessary for vitamin D supply.
However, it is not always summer – and in winter the solar radiation in central and northern Europe is not sufficient to cover the vitamin D requirement. Since vitamin D can be stored in adipose tissue, it depends on personal vitamin D stores whether one gets through the winter well or eventually develops a deficiency.
Most people, therefore, take vitamin D-containing food supplements (capsules or drops) to be on the safe side. However, some foods can also contribute to the supply of vitamin D. However, only to a small extent, since the vitamin D content in most foods is low. Yes, most foods do not contain any vitamin D at all.
Nevertheless, it is occasionally assumed that we do not yet know all the sources of vitamin D in food and that diet could possibly make up a larger proportion of the vitamin D supply than has been assumed in recent years. For example, in 2018 it was discovered that even chocolate contains vitamin D – as you can read below.
Vitamin D content in food
In the following, we present those foods that contain vitamin D and indicate the vitamin D content of the most important foods (always per 100 g). A person’s daily requirement varies widely and depends on their current vitamin D levels, but is estimated to be between 1000 and 8000 IU for an adult.
Sometimes the requirement or the content of vitamin D in food is not specified in IE (International Units), but in µg (micrograms). The following applies:
- 1 µg = 40 IU
- 0.025 µg = 1 IU
Even if your requirement is only 1000 IU – as you will find out from the following vitamin D levels – it will be difficult to meet this requirement with food alone. So get enough sun in summer and use a vitamin D test in autumn or winter to check whether you need vitamin D supplements. You can read more about this in our article on how to take vitamin D correctly.
Artificial fortification of foods with vitamin D
In Germany, most foods cannot be fortified with vitamin D. However, there are exceptions. These apply to cooking oils, margarine, and spreadable fats as well as breakfast cereals. This artificial enrichment must be labeled on the product. However, this labeling does not have to be emblazoned large and wide on the front of the packaging.
It is sufficient if “vitamin D” appears in the ingredients and the vitamin D content per 100 g is stated in the nutritional value table, which e.g. B. in the margarine Becel Vital 7.5 µg (300 IU) per 100 g. If you consume 10 g of margarine as a spread, that would be an additional 30 IU of vitamin D, which is not very much, but it shouldn’t be higher either, because there is a fear that the consumer would otherwise suffer a toxic overdose. In the case of oils and fats, no more vitamin D than 7.5 µg per 100 g mentioned may be added.
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment recommends a maximum amount of 1.5 µg of vitamin D for future fortifications of milk and milk products including cheese and no more than 5 µg per 100 g for the fortification of grain products.
Vitamin D in margarine and butter
Butter contains 50 IU (1.24 mcg) of vitamin D per 100g, which isn’t much since you don’t eat butter by 100g. Margarine, on the other hand, is naturally free of vitamin D. Only fortified varieties (see the previous section) contain vitamin D.
Vitamin D in dairy products
Milk is consistently cited as a good source of vitamin D, but this is not the case as dairy products do not contain significant amounts of vitamin D (unless they are artificially fortified with vitamin D, which is rarely the case to date). (2):
- Whole milk: 80 IU (2 µg) per liter
- Low-fat milk, which is what the supposed nutrition experts are so fond of recommending, does not contain any vitamin D at all, since the vitamin is known to be fat-soluble and has been removed with the fat.
- Full-fat yoghurt: 4 IU (0.1 µg) per 100 g
- Bergkase cream level: 28 IU (0.7 µg) per 100 g
You see, not even a high-fat cheese can make a significant contribution to meeting vitamin D needs. You would have to eat 1 kilogram of it per day to cover at least a third of the officially stated daily requirement, which is usually too low anyway (namely 800 IU). Dairy products are therefore not suitable for covering the need.
Vitamin D in fish
How about fish? High-fat fish is also always mentioned as a very good source of vitamin D, which is why – according to numerous “experts” – you should eat high-fat fish at least once or twice a week, e.g. B. herring, mackerel, or salmon. Below are some vitamin D values from high-fat fish (each per 100 g):
- Herring (15 g fat): 960 IU (24 µg)
- Smoked eel (25 g fat): 880 IU (22 µg)
- Fried salmon fillet (10 g fat): 700 IU (17.5 µg)
- Mackerel cooked (10 g fat): 40 IU (1 µg)
You can see from the example of mackerel, which is always mentioned in the same breath as herring and eel as a good source of vitamin D, that oily fish are not always a good source of vitamin D either.
Vitamin D in meat and sausages
Meat – whether beef steak, pork schnitzel, or chicken breast – and sausage either contain no vitamin D at all or traces that are not worth mentioning. The liver isn’t really helpful either, although offal is occasionally cited as a source of vitamin D.
The vitamin is found in the fat of the liver – and since the liver is generally low in fat (about 4 percent fat content), the vitamin D content is not outstanding either. In the fresh beef liver, it is around 1.7 µg and 68 IU, which means that with 100 g of liver you would cover just 9 percent of the officially stated daily vitamin D requirement.
LeberTRAN is of course very rich in vitamin D. However, it is a product of fish liver (the oil isolated from it), so it has nothing to do with the liver of land animals.
Vitamin D in Eggs
Eggs are also often cited as a good source of vitamin D, but that’s not really the case. Two medium-sized eggs provide about 116 IU (2.9 µg). So if you have a daily requirement of 2,000 IU of vitamin D, then you would have to eat 18 eggs in addition to the daily portion of fish (100 g) – if you wanted to rely on food as the sole source of vitamin D.
However, even organic eggs are not ethically justifiable, since laying hens have to live in catastrophic conditions and – even in organic farming – after 1.5 years at the latest are no longer considered economical because they are emaciated and no longer lay enough eggs, slaughtered and exchanged for new chickens. We describe the current situation of German laying hens in our article Why You Shouldn’t Eat Eggs.
Vitamin D in cocoa and chocolate
Although there were publications as early as 1935 according to which cocoa contained significant amounts of vitamin D, the results were probably not taken seriously. It was only in 2018 that researchers at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg published a study that showed that cocoa and products made from it could actually contribute to the supply of vitamin D.
Mushrooms contain high amounts of ergosterol, the scientists wrote – and ergosterol is a precursor to vitamin D2. Since cocoa beans are now often contaminated with fungi, ergosterol also gets into the cocoa. When the cocoa beans are dried in the sun after fermentation, ergosterol becomes vitamin D2 under the influence of UV radiation.
Conventional cocoa products from supermarkets in Karlsruhe and Halle/Saale were examined. Cocoa butter had the highest vitamin D2 content, followed by cocoa powder. Cocoa beans contained relatively little vitamin D2. Chocolate, on the other hand, contained more vitamin D2 but spreads containing cocoa and cocoa instant drinks contained little. Below are the results of the study (always per 100 g of food):
- Cocoa powder (20 percent fat): 1.4 to 1.8 µg per 100 g
- Cocoa butter: 3 µg, but strongly fluctuating values
- Roasted cocoa beans: 0.17 mcg
- Whole milk chocolate (with 25 – 30% cocoa): 2 µg
- Chocolate with 50% cocoa: 2.73 µg
- Chocolate with 60% cocoa: 3.95 µg
- White chocolate: 1.35 mcg
- Nut Chocolate Spread: 0.15 µg
- Cocoa instant drink: 0.3 – 0.4 µg
Assuming you eat 20g of dark chocolate a day, that would only be 30IU, so not great either.
Vitamin D2 is sometimes said to be less bioavailable and less potent than vitamin D3. Read more about this in our main article on vitamin D (see the very first link in this text at the top, but also the link after that in the next section, which deals with the vitamin D2 content in edible mushrooms).
Vitamin D in edible mushrooms
Edible mushrooms can form significant amounts of vitamin D if they are grown outdoors. Conventionally cultivated mushrooms, however, are usually grown in the dark. However, you can simply lay the purchased mushrooms (e.g. button mushrooms) in the sun (with the lamellae upwards), as they can still form vitamin D after harvesting. According to one study, 46,000 IU of vitamin D2 are formed per 100 g of mushrooms after just 2 days of 6 hours of sunshine. So just a few of these mushrooms per day are enough to cover the vitamin D requirement.
Chanterelles are said to contain 84 IU (2.1 µg) of vitamin D, porcini mushrooms and morels 124 IU (3.1 µg), and cultivated mushrooms 76 IU (1.9 µg).
Vitamin D in fruits and vegetables
We used to list the avocado with 136 IU (3.4 µg) of vitamin D as a source of vitamin D, as this was also noted in the federal food code. In the meantime, however, it has been announced that these values were a mistake because the avocado does not contain any vitamin D. In the current federal food code, the avocado, therefore, has 0 IU of vitamin D and is therefore not a source of vitamin D (1).
All other fruits, vegetables, and salads also do not contain any vitamin D. The only exception here are the mushrooms mentioned above.
Vitamin D in legumes, nuts, and grains
Legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains do not contain vitamin D.
Losses when cooking and frying
A study published in Food Chemistry in 2014 looked at the vitamin D losses in eggs, margarine, and bread caused by cooking, baking, and roasting. In general, vitamin D is considered a relatively heat-stable vitamin. However, after baking eggs and margarine for 40 minutes, up to 60 percent of the original vitamin D content was lost.
Boiled eggs still contained 82 to 84 percent of their original vitamin D content. Wheat bread lost 15 percent when baked, while rye bread lost 30 percent ( 6Trusted Source ). When meat is cooked, a loss of around 40 percent is to be expected.
Foods with vitamin D: unsuitable for covering the requirement
So you can see that it is hardly possible to meet your vitamin D requirements with natural foods alone. Even if it says on many pages that animal foods are rich in vitamin D, this is not correct either, as you can see from the values above. Unless, of course, the food in question is artificially fortified with vitamin D, whereby it is mostly plant-based foods that are fortified accordingly. Therefore, pay attention to the information on the packaging of finished products.
If e.g. For example, if you regularly eat or drink a product fortified with vitamin D, you could reduce the dose of your vitamin D supplement accordingly.