‘The sunshine vitamin’ is essential to overall health, and luckily there are many low carb foods that are high in vitamin D.
Although sunshine is the best source of vitamin D, dietary sources are also important.
This is especially the case in countries with long, cold winters like in Northern Europe.
As vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, the majority of foods containing high levels are dietary sources of fat.
Here are 10 low-carb foods high in vitamin D.
Salmon contains 441 IU of vitamin D per 100g, approximately 73.5% of the recommended daily value (RDA) (1).
On the positive side, salmon is one of the tastiest foods around, and it contributes a huge amount of vitamin D.
However, it’s good to choose the source of your food carefully. For this purpose, you should be aware that wild Alaskan salmon is a much better choice than Norwegian salmon.
While wild-caught Alaskan salmon comes from clean, fresh waters; salmon from Norway is farmed fish.
Pollutants often contaminate farmed fish. Here’s everything you need to know:
- Farmed salmon contains various heavy metals, pesticides, and dioxins.
- Consumption of up to 1.3kg salmon per week is within the ‘upper safe limit’ set by the EU for these toxins.
- The upper safety limit does not figure possible toxin exposure from other foods into this calculation (2).
Based on this, it’s best to choose wild-caught salmon where possible. However, I’d say any fish is better than no fish due to the importance of omega-3.
Key Point: Salmon provides 441 IU of vitamin D per 100 g, which is 73.5% of the RDA. Salmon is also full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Similar to its cousin salmon, trout is another low-carb food high in vitamin D. In fact, it has an even greater vitamin D content.
Trout provides 635 IU of vitamin D per 100g which is 106% of the RDA (3).
In addition to vitamin D, trout is also full of B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Together with the mineral content and protein, this makes trout an important food nutritionally.
If you take a look at the nutritional profile of trout, you’ll see that it’s very high in protein and fat with no carbohydrate. This macro ratio makes it a perfect choice for a low-carb diet.
Another great thing about trout is that it’s very low in mercury and wild-caught from fresh waters (4).
Key Point: Trout provides 635 IU of vitamin D on a 100g basis, around 106% of the RDA. Trout is one of the healthier choices of fish you can make.
3. Beef Liver
Hated by many and loved by a few, organ meats are among the most nutritious foods in the world.
Regarding beef liver, it contains approximately 49 IU of vitamin D per 100g, representing 8.2% of the RDA (5).
Additionally, liver is a superfood when it comes to nutrients. Together with vitamin D, all the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are present.
Similar to eggs, eating liver is important as it is one of the only dietary sources of vitamin A.
On the downside, many people have an issue with eating organ meats. But luckily, there are a few ways to make beef liver more palatable.
Firstly, you can marinate the liver for several hours in an acidic mix. A great combination I discovered included lemon juice, tamari, mashed garlic, salt, and pepper.
Secondly, pan-frying alongside some bacon, onions, and garlic infuses the liver with fat and flavor.
Key Point: The vitamin D content of beef liver is 49 IU per 100g, around 8% of the RDA. Beef liver is one most nutrient-dense foods available and contains a wealth of beneficial micronutrients.
Owing to their incredible nutrient-density, eggs are one of the best low-carb foods high in vitamin D.
In fact, just one egg provides 87 IU of vitamin D – approximately 14.5% of the RDA (6). Whenever I speak about eggs, I always refer to them as nature’s multivitamin.
This name is as a result of their excellent nutrient profile. In spite of being small, one egg (especially the yolk) is crammed full of beneficial proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.
However, it’s important to be aware that hens raised on pastured land provide much healthier eggs. In brief, pastured eggs have more omega-3, less omega-6, and a much higher vitamin content than caged eggs (10).
And another great thing about eggs is how they make such a versatile cooking ingredient. For example; you can boil, fry, poach, steam, bake, or even make a soup using eggs.
Key Point: One large egg can contain 87 IU of vitamin D, 14.5% of the RDA. In addition, eggs have one of the widest ranges of nutrients out of all foods.
5. Fish Roe
Perhaps owing to its relative rarity, fish roe might seem an unusual food for you. But fish roe (otherwise known as fish eggs) is certainly a good source of vitamin D and provides 484 IU per 100g – 81% RDA (11).
As a relatively unusual food in the western diet, fish eggs are not as well known as their expensive cousin, caviar. While there’s a big difference in price between the two, the nutritional values are very similar.
At present, fish eggs are probably most prized in Japanese cuisine and form a regular part of the diet.
Generally speaking, real food is not just one nutrient, and this is definitely true for fish roe. Together with their vitamin D content, fish eggs are an exceptional source of omega-3 and contribute approximately 2.5 grams per 100g (12).
Key Point: Fish roe provides a huge 484 IU per 100g – 81% of the RDA. Fish eggs are one of the biggest contributors to dietary omega-3 too.
Not only is mackerel incredibly tasty, but it’s also one of the most nutritious foods around.
Mackerel has many impressive qualities, such as being one of the best omega-3 sources out of all foods (13).
Regarding its vitamin D content, mackerel provides 643 IU per 100g which is 107% of the RDA (14).
It’s important to note that depending on the particular breed and location of mackerel, the mercury content is different.
Given their higher mercury content, King mackerel (US) and Spanish mackerel should be avoided or strictly limited. However, Atlantic mackerel is low in mercury and fine for regular consumption (15).
Key Point: Mackerel provides 643 IU of vitamin D per 100g – 107% of the RDA. This makes mackerel one of the best low carb foods that are high in vitamin D. It’s a good choice for health too; high in omega-3, low in mercury.
As one of the most popular low carb foods high in vitamin D, sardines are a typical go-to convenience food.
They also contain an impressive nutrient profile, which includes 272IU of vitamin D per 100g (16).
Not only are sardines a food rich in vitamin D, but also calcium and many other essential vitamins and minerals.
You can buy either canned or fresh sardines. As a rule, it’s always better to opt for fresh fish, but canned sardines can be a convenient addition.
Just to point out, if you choose canned sardines then some of the cans come packed in unhealthy vegetable oils.
With this in mind, it’s better to go for sardines packed in brine.
Key Point: With 272 IU of vitamin D per 100g (45% RDA), sardines are reasonably high in vitamin D. If you buy canned sardines, watch out for the other ingredients included such as omega-6 vegetable oils.
Most seafood tends to be a good source of vitamin D, and shellfish are no exception.
In fact, one of the best sources of vitamin D comes from oysters. On a per 100g basis, oysters provide 320 IU of vitamin D – 53% of the RDA (17).
Additionally, oysters contain a lot of vitamins and minerals. Particularly important are the vitamin B12, iron, zinc and copper contents.
As well as all these vitamins and minerals, oysters are also a decent source of protein.
Key Point: Oysters are extremely nutrient-rich and provide a good source of vitamin D – 320 IU per 100g. Oysters are also particularly beneficial as a source of vitamin B12, iron, zinc and copper.
Tuna is yet another low carb seafood high in vitamin D. Tuna provides around 227 IU per 100g, which represents 37.8% of the RDA (18).
Similar to other fish, tuna is also very high in omega-3 fatty acids. Aside from this, it is also an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Tuna may be eaten cooked or raw. If you are a fan of sashimi (raw fish), then tuna is one of the most iconic raw fish in Japan and for a good reason – it tastes delicious.
Unfortunately, it isn’t all positives with tuna, though. On the negative side, tuna is very high in mercury, and this may cause problems with regular consumption.
Key Point: The vitamin D content of tuna is relatively high at 227 IU per 100g (38% RDA). But it’s important to keep the mercury content in mind; occasional consumption is preferable.
10. Cod Liver Oil
Although this technically isn’t food, cod liver oil is an outstanding source of vitamin D.
In fact, just one tablespoon of cod liver oil provides a significant 1360 IU of vitamin D – approximately 227% RDA (18).
There are many nutrients besides vitamin D too; cod liver oil provides a great source of omega-3, and it is loaded with vitamin A.
Unfortunately, cod liver oil is not a regular feature of most households these days. It was very different to this just one or two short generations ago.
As a young child, I remember my grandparents valued cod liver oil so much that they took it every day. Despite the taste, I used to give it a try too!
If you would like more information, here is a helpful article I came across; Why My Family Takes Cod Liver Oil Every Day.
Overall, there are many low carb foods that are high in vitamin D.
Seafood is an exceptional source, but animal foods such as eggs, cheese, and dairy all provide a reasonable amount too.
If you’re on a low-carb diet, then you probably won’t have a problem getting vitamin D from food.