Often referred to as “the sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin.
This vitamin has great importance for our health, and it plays a role in blood pressure regulation and immune health among many other functions (1).
In this article, we take an in-depth look at the top twenty foods high in vitamin D.
The current reference daily intake (RDI) for vitamin D is 600 IU (15 mcg) for adults.
However, this falls to 400 IU (10 mcg) for children under 12 months old and rises to 800 IU (20 mcg) for adults over the age of 70 (2).
All nutrition values are sourced from the USDA Food Composition Database.
|Halibut||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||27.4 mcg / 1097 IU||183 %|
|Per Fillet (204g)||55.9 mcg / 2238 IU||373 %|
Halibut is a type of flatfish which lives in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and it is a significant source of vitamin D (3).
In addition to its vitamin D content, halibut is an excellent source of omega-3 and protein.
Furthermore, halibut is an easy food to prepare and simply baking or grilling it in the oven works well.
|Eel||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||23.3 mcg / 932 IU||155 %|
|Per Fillet (204g)||47.5 mcg / 1901 IU||317 %|
While it may not appeal to everyone thanks to its appearance, eel is one of the most nutritious types of seafood.
With one fillet providing approximately 317% of the RDI for vitamin D, you don’t need a lot to meet the recommended amount (4).
Eel also contains significant amounts of protein, omega-3, vitamin A (as retinol), and vitamin B12.
3) Atlantic Mackerel
|Atlantic Mackerel||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||16.1 mcg / 643 IU||107 %|
|Per Fillet (112g)||18 mcg / 720 IU||120 %|
A typical fillet of mackerel provides more than 120% of the RDI for vitamin D (5).
Not only is mackerel incredibly tasty, but it’s also one of the most nutritious foods around.
Atlantic mackerel is a particularly good choice because it contains high amounts of omega-3 and it has very low concentrations of mercury.
Since they have a higher mercury content, King mackerel (US) and Spanish mackerel should be avoided or strictly limited (6).
4) Rainbow Trout
|Rainbow Trout||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||15.9 mcg / 635 IU||106 %|
|Per Fillet (79g)||12.6 mcg / 502 IU||84 %|
With a similar appearance and flavor to salmon, trout is a nutritious fish that provides a large source of vitamin D.
Per fillet, trout offers around 84% of the RDI (7).
In addition to vitamin D, trout is also full of B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
Together with the mineral and protein content it offers, trout is an excellent food nutritionally.
5) Sockeye Salmon
|Sockeye Salmon||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||14.1 mcg / 563 IU||94 %|
|Per Fillet (198g)||27.9 mcg / 1115 IU||186 %|
Similar to its distant cousin trout, salmon is another fatty fish high in vitamin D.
While all varieties of salmon are full of the vitamin, sockeye salmon provides the most, and it supplies 186% of the RDI per fillet (8).
Salmon is very nutrient-dense, but one of its best points is the flavor. Whether raw (as sashimi) or cooked, salmon tastes delicious.
|Swordfish||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||13.9 mcg / 558 IU||93 %|
|Per Piece (136g)||18.9 mcg / 759 IU||127 %|
As you can see, fish are some of the highest vitamin D foods. While it may seem that all these foods are going to be seafood, we will come to other foods soon.
However, swordfish is another rich source of vitamin D, and it supplies 127% of the RDI per piece. Swordfish is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and B vitamins (9).
On the negative side, swordfish contains significant concentrations of mercury.
One study noted that people who regularly consume swordfish have blood mercury concentrations “that exceed the tolerable daily intake limits recommended by the World Health Organization” (10).
7) Fish Roe
|Fish Roe||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||12.1 mcg / 484 IU||81 %|
|Per 3 oz (85g)||10.3 mcg / 411 IU||69 %|
Fish roe is incredibly nutritious, and it offers a wide range of essential nutrients.
Per 100 grams, fish roe offers approximately 81% of the RDI for vitamin D (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.
Other reasons to consider fish roe include its important omega-3 content—more than 2.4 grams per 100 grams—and its large supply of vitamin B12.
8) Tuna (Bluefin)
|Bluefin Tuna||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||5.7 mcg / 227 IU||38 %|
|Per 5 oz (140g)||8.0 mcg / 318 IU||53 %|
All different species of tuna fish offer a good amount of vitamin D, but bluefin provides the most concentrated source.
Bluefin tuna offers 53% of the RDI per five-ounce serving (12).
However, be prepared to pay a premium price for bluefin tuna — it is one of the most expensive fish in the world.
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.
9) Chicken Fat
|Chicken Fat||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||4.8 mcg / 191 IU||32 %|
|Per tbsp (12.8g)||0.6 mcg / 24 IU||4 %|
Chicken fat is an excellent source of vitamin D, and it provides 4% of the RDI per tablespoon (13).
Contrary to popular opinion, animal fats can have some benefits, and they are a good source of fat-soluble vitamins.
In addition to its vitamin D content, chicken fat also provides some vitamin E.
|Herring||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||4.2 mcg / 167 IU||28 %|
|Per Fillet (184g)||7.7 mcg / 307 IU||51 %|
Herring is another oily fish that offers a lot of nutritional benefits, including a high content of vitamin D.
Per standard fillet, herring provides more than half the RDI for the vitamin (14).
Other good reasons to eat herring include its large provision of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids.
|Lard||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||2.5 mcg / 102 IU||17 %|
|Per tbsp (12.8g)||0.3 mcg / 13 IU||2 %|
Lard is a good source of vitamin D, and a tablespoon serving provides around 2% of the RDI (15).
There are also claims that lard from free-range pigs has vitamin D concentrations many multiples of this figure.
While it makes sense that animals raised outdoors will have higher vitamin D levels, there doesn’t appear to be a reliable reference to support a definite figure for this.
Lard is a tasty cooking fat, and it is useful for high-heat cooking because it is highly resistant to oxidation (16).
12) Bacon Grease
|Bacon Grease||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||2.5 mcg / 101 IU||17 %|
|Per tbsp (12.8g)||0.3 mcg / 13 IU||2 %|
Bacon grease contains almost as much vitamin D as regular lard, providing about 2% of the RDI per tablespoon (17).
Once again, if the bacon came from an outdoor-reared pig, then this figure could potentially be a lot higher.
Nutritionally, bacon grease doesn’t offer much other than its fat content, but it is arguably the tastiest cooking fat.
13) Pork Spare ribs
|Pork Spare ribs||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||2.3 mcg / 91 IU||17 %|
|Per 8 oz (227g)||5.2 mcg / 207 IU||35 %|
Spare ribs are a cut of pork from the lower area of a pig, around the belly and breastbone.
Since an eight-ounce serving provides around 35% of the RDI, spare ribs are also a good source of vitamin D (18).
|Eggs||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||2.0 mcg / 82 IU||14 %|
|Per Large Egg||1.0 mcg / 41 IU||7 %|
While the amount of vitamin D in one egg might not sound a lot, it can quickly add up when you have a few eggs at a time.
For instance, a three-egg omelet will provide 21% of the RDI (19).
Aside from this, eggs have many other beneficial nutrients such as protein, a wide range of vitamins and minerals, and the hard-to-find choline (20).
15) Beef Liver
|Beef Liver||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||1.2 mcg / 49 IU||8 %|
|Per 4 oz (113g)||1.4 mcg / 55 IU||9 %|
Hated by many and loved by a few, organ meats are among the most nutritious foods in the world.
Out of all organ meats, beef liver is one of the best, and it is a source of every vitamin and mineral.
While the vitamin D content is not quite as high as some of the other nutrients liver provides, it still comes to 9% of the RDI for a four-ounce serving (21).
Beef liver is an excellent way to get more essential nutrients into our diet, and a small weekly serving provides a lot of nutritional value.
16) Turkey (w/ skin)
|Turkey||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||1.1 mcg / 46 IU||8 %|
|Per 8 oz (227g)||2.4 mcg / 104 IU||17 %|
The fatty skin of turkey is rich in vitamin D, so turkey meat—including the skin—supplies a good amount of the vitamin.
Per eight-ounce serving, skin-on turkey provides 17% of the RDI (22).
Turkey is also an excellent source of protein, selenium, and many other essential nutrients.
17) Beef Kidney
|Beef Kidney||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||1.1 mcg / 45 IU||8 %|
|Per 4 oz (113g)||1.2 mcg / 51 IU||9 %|
Similar to liver meat, kidney meats tend to be a significant source of many vitamins and minerals.
A four-ounce serving of beef kidney supplies 9% of the RDI for vitamin D (23).
Additionally, beef kidneys are an excellent source of protein, selenium, and B vitamins.
18) Whole Milk
|Whole Milk||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||1.0 mcg / 40 IU||7 %|
|Per cup (244g)||2.44 mcg / 97.6 IU||24 %|
All dairy products contain vitamin D, and whole milk is one of the best ways to get it.
A regular cup of milk provides 21% of the RDI for the vitamin (24).
Lower fat versions of milk should also contain the vitamin, although this will be through fortification rather than naturally-occurring vitamin D.
19) Cheddar Cheese
|Cheddar Cheese||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||1.0 mcg / 41 IU||7 %|
|Per slice (28g)||0.3 mcg / 11 IU||2 %|
Cheddar is one of the most popular kinds of cheese in the world, and for a good reason; it is delicious.
Also, Cheddar cheese provides a moderate amount of vitamin D, supplying around 7% of the RDI per 100 grams (25).
There are many more great reasons to use Cheddar too.
for example, adding a little bit of Cheddar seems to enhance the flavor of almost any dish. The cheese is also very high in calcium, phosphorus, and protein.
|Salami||Vitamin D Amount||% RDI|
|Per 100 grams ||0.9 mcg / 36 IU||6 %|
|Per ounce (28g)||0.3 mcg / 10 IU||2 %|
Although cured meats sometimes get a bad reputation in the media, they are a good source of nutrients.
For every one-ounce piece of salami, it offers around 2% of the RDI for vitamin D (26).
Better yet; for even more vitamin D, try combining a few slices of salami with some Cheddar cheese.
What is the Difference Between IU and Mcg For Vitamin D?
Are you confused about the difference between mcg and IU?
Firstly, they are just two different ways of measuring the vitamin D content (or any fat-soluble vitamin) in food.
Mcg stands for ‘micrograms,’ and it is the metric way of measuring mass. You may also hear micrograms referred to as ‘µg,’ which is the official symbol, but it isn’t as keyboard-friendly as ‘mcg.’
There are one thousand micrograms in one gram.
IU means ‘International Units,’ and it is a measurement of the biological activity of the vitamin.
There is no need to know both of these.
However, in this article, vitamin D concentrations have been shown in both measurements for convenience. The reason for this is because some countries use IU and some use mcg to measure the vitamin.
Why You Should Choose Vitamin D3 Over Vitamin D2
Aside from the foods in this article, there are many other options which provide vitamin D.
However, there are several distinct varieties of the vitamin to be aware of. The main two are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3.
Importantly, vitamin D3 is the same form of the vitamin produced by the skin after sunlight exposure. We can mainly find vitamin D3 in animal foods such as dairy, meat, and seafood.
In contrast, vitamin D2 is slightly different biologically, and it is not as bioavailable. We can usually see this form of the vitamin in fortified food products.
Don’t Forget Sunlight
Lastly, it is worth remembering that the best source of vitamin D is sunlight from (sensible) sun exposure.
According to a recent Canadian study, sunlight exposure can produce the recommended level of vitamin D in as little as 14 minutes (30).
However, this depended on the sun’s intensity and the individual’s skin color, and the time rose to as high as 58 minutes in people with darker skin tones.
As shown in this article, there are many different ways to get sufficient vitamin D, and there are a variety of food options.
Although sunlight is the primary source of vitamin D, foods such as halibut, mackerel, and other oily fish offer substantial concentrations of the vitamin.
According to a recent study, 41.4% of US adults have a sufficient intake of vitamin D. Furthermore, 28.9% of these adults have a full vitamin D deficiency (31).
These deficiency rates show the importance of obtaining adequate amounts of the vitamin.
For anyone with insufficient sun exposure, including some of the foods in this guide is an excellent way to boost vitamin D levels.