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Top 10 Vitamin D Foods For Vegetarians

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Updated on
Top 10 Vitamin D Foods For Vegetarians

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • A vegetarian diet includes plant-based proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and may include fish and eggs (depending on the individual.) 
  • Vitamin D is primarily found in animal products, but there are some vegetarian options you can include in your diet.
  • Other ways to boost your vitamin D levels include safe sun exposure and supplements. Your doctor or pharmacist can recommend a safe dose.

Vitamin D, or the sunshine vitamin, is naturally synthesized in your skin when exposed to sunlight.

The ultraviolet rays initiate a biochemical reaction in skin cells that produce pre-vitamin D, which travels to the liver and then kidneys to be activated into 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (calcitriol).

This version of vitamin D functions hormonally to help your gut absorb calcium, which also supports bone health. 

It’s challenging to satisfy your vitamin D requirements without supplementation, especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere with limited exposure to sunlight.

Fortunately, some foods naturally contain vitamin D and can easily be added to your weekly menu. 

Keep reading to learn about vitamin D foods for vegetarians (meat-eaters can enjoy them too). 

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Top 10 Vitamin D Foods for Vegetarians

A vegetarian diet can be customized for your preferences but usually excludes meat, poultry, and fish—which are the highest food sources of vitamin D.

However, there are plenty of plant-based options you can enjoy, such as mushrooms, cheeses, and fortified products.

Some vegetarians also eat eggs, which offer some vitamin D. 

1. Mushrooms 

Wild mushrooms typically grow in dark, damp environments with limited sunlight exposure.

Interestingly, when farmed under a UV lamp, they become rich in vitamin D2 (a plant source of vitamin D). 

Unlike other vegetables, mushrooms uniquely contain ergosterol, an organic compound that functions similarly to human cholesterol and can synthesize vitamin D2 in their cell walls. 

Below are examples of vitamin D-rich mushrooms you can include in your meals.

Other great options include enoki, morel, shiitake, and oyster.

Raw Mushroom
(100g or ~¾ cup)

Vitamin D (IU)

Vitamin D (IU) after being
exposed to UV light

Portobello101140
White mushroom71050
Crimini (brown mushroom)31280

You might find UV-exposed mushrooms at specialty health grocery stores, or you can do it yourself. 

Research suggests using natural sunlight, a UV lamp, or a pulsed UV lamp for one to four seconds, depending on the intensity of your light.

End the exposure before your mushroom starts to brown from the UV light. Predicting the final vitamin D levels is impossible at home, but it should help. 

2. Fortified Plant-Based Milk 

Fortification is a food processing technique that adds nutrients to a food product, such as vitamin D.

This innovative food-science achievement allows people with dietary restrictions to increase their nutritional intake by consuming fortified foods.

Fortified plant-based milk options are listed in descending order, with the first item containing the highest vitamin D (100-144 IU per cup): 

  • Soy milk. 
  • Oat milk. 
  • Almond milk. 
  • Coconut milk. 
  • Pea milk.
  • Rice milk. 

3. Cow’s Milk

It’s highly personalized, but a vegetarian diet can include animal dairy products. 

In the US, cow’s milk is enriched with vitamin D.

One cup has around 111 IU of vitamin D, which is within a similar range to fortified plant-based alternatives.

It’s also rich in calcium.

Some milk brands are fortified with vitamin A, which helps you maintain a healthy immune system.

Comparing the nutrition facts while grocery shopping can help you determine which products have the most optimal vitamin and mineral content.

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4. Fortified Cereals 

Many grain products, including cereals, are fortified with nutrients to prevent nutrient deficiencies. 

Try these vitamin D-fortified cereals at breakfast or as a yogurt-topper for your mid-afternoon snack

5. Fortified Orange Juice 

Orange juice is a convenient and affordable way for Americans to satisfy their vitamin C and D requirements.

Some brands even add calcium to their product, which may appeal to you. 

Although fruit juices are high in sugar and low in fiber, they can still be included in a balanced diet.

You can ask your dietitian for more information on how to do this. 

When choosing a juice, look at the nutrition label and packaging.

Regular orange juice contains zero vitamin D, while fortified options have 100 IU per cup.

The right product should clearly advertise the addition of vitamin D on the front label. 

6. Eggs

Not all vegetarians eat eggs, but some do.

The yolk contains the highest vitamin D concentration, and one scrambled egg offers 44 IU of vitamin D. 

If you don’t like eggs scrambled, you can also eat them boiled, pan-fried, or baked.

The cooking method shouldn’t affect the vitamin D levels unless dehydrated. 

Pair your eggs with delicious vegetables and grainy bread to balance the meal nutritionally. 

7. Cheddar Cheese

Cheeses can enhance the flavor of a dish and add nutritional value.

They contain calcium and varying protein levels and naturally have vitamin D. 

Cheddar cheese has approximately 17 IU of vitamin D for a 1.5oz serving.

It won’t be enough to satisfy your daily requirements, but it does help get you closer to your goals (and it tastes delicious.) 

8. Ricotta Cheese

Soft, creamy ricotta cheese is perfect for savory baked dishes (like stuffed pasta shells) or spread on a slice of whole-grain toast.

A serving of ricotta may be ¼ cup to ½ cup, and the latter has approximately 12.5 IU of vitamin D.

Additionally, it offers 9g of protein and 255mg of calcium. 

9. Fortified Tofu 

More foods are being fortified as people switch to a plant-based eating pattern (or simply decrease their meat intake).

Fortified tofu contains approximately 101 IU of vitamin D per 100g serving.

Look at the nutrition label to ensure you buy a fortified option (regular tofu doesn’t have vitamin D). 

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Supplementing Vitamin D

The National Institutes of Health recommends that everyone between the ages of 1 and 70  consume 600 IU of vitamin D daily.

After 70, the needs increase to 800 IU daily.

You can take oral tablets or liquid drops.  

Although vitamin D is naturally produced in the body, it’s challenging to satisfy your vitamin D needs through sun exposure because of cloud coverage, long-sleeve clothing and winter gear, and sunscreen—essential for protecting you from skin cancer. 

You can buy either vitamin D2 or Vitamin D3 supplements, but D3 tends to raise your levels higher and for longer. 

Your doctor should recommend a safe dosage for you to take because high amounts of supplemental vitamin D can be harmful.

Most adults must stay below 4000IU daily, and children’s needs are lower the younger they are. 

Tips for Vegetarians to Ensure Adequate Vitamin D Intake

People following a vegetarian diet must stay on top of their vitamin D intake to prevent deficiencies.

Here are easy tips to help you satisfy your vitamin D intake: 

  • Try to include at least one vitamin D-rich food at each meal.
  • Choose fortified products as often as possible. 
  • Pick a time of day that’s easy for you to take your supplement. If you’re not a morning person, try taking it before bed instead. Double-check the bottle to ensure you can take it with food. 
  • Practice safe sun by exposing at least 40% of your body (arms, legs, torso when possible) to mid-day sun for 10-15 minutes—followed by sun protection to avoid burning. Most people can’t do this during cold winter months or cool autumns.  

Ask your doctor for a blood test to assess your vitamin D levels annually (or sooner if you’re actively correcting a deficiency.) 

You might be doing better than you think, but if your numbers come back low, you now know how to make changes to correct your vitamin D status.  

Takeaway

Vitamin D helps with bone health, immune function, and cardiovascular health.

Animal products are the primary dietary sources of vitamin D, but vegetarian-friendly options exist too. 

Choose fortified products whenever possible because they make meeting your vitamin D needs easier.

Popular foods include fortified orange juice, tofu, cereals, and plant-based milk.

You can also enjoy mushrooms, cow’s milk (depending on your preferences), and various cheeses. 

When the temperature allows, enjoy the sun and expose your skin briefly before applying sunscreen (10-15 minutes of mid-day sun should be enough.) 

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How a Dietitian Can Help

A vegan and vegetarian dietitian can help you follow a plant-based diet.

Together, you’ll find foods that satisfy your nutritional needs and make you feel joyful after eating. 

You may not know what to expect if you’ve never met with a dietitian. Here are questions to ask: 

  • Are there any nutrients missing in my diet? 
  • What are the symptoms of a vitamin deficiency? 
  • Do I need a supplement? 
  • How can I satisfy my protein requirements? 

Find a dietitian that accepts insurance through Nourish—all appointments are online to easily fit into your schedule.

Frequently Asked Questions

What vegetarian foods are high in vitamin D?

Vegetarian-friendly foods that are high in vitamin D include: 

  • Mushrooms.
  • Cheeses.
  • Egg.
  • Fortified cereals and grains.
  • Fortified orange juice. 
  • Fortified plant-based dairy alternatives.

What food is highest in vitamin D?

Fatty fish, such as cod or trout, is the highest source of vitamin D.

In a vegetarian diet, fortified products such as cereals will offer the most vitamin D. 

Many people (even those that eat fish) will require a supplement to reach their vitamin D needs.

How can I raise my vitamin D quickly?

Spending time in sunlight can provide a near-instant boost of vitamin D.

To maintain healthy levels, you should also eat vitamin D-rich foods and consider taking a supplement if your blood levels are low.

References

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