It's called the "sunshine vitamin" for a reason. Vitamin D—a vitamin that promotes calcium absorption in the intestines, aids in bone growth, and reduces inflammation—is manufactured by the skin when it's exposed to sunlight, triggering a process called vitamin D synthesis. (It's a lot like photosynthesis, but for humans.)
The recommended daily (aka dietary) allowance (RDA) of vitamin D for adults aged 18 to 70 is roughly 600 international units (IU), or 15 micrograms (mcg). (As of January 2020, micrograms—versus IUs—are the new FDA-mandated standard of measurement.)
But as the weather cools down and the sofa softly calls your name, you'll likely swap beach days for Netflix binges, unable to absorb even a fraction of what you would spending time outside in warmer months. (This, BTW, is why vitamin D deficiency—with symptoms like fatigue, brittle bones, and depression—is so common.)So if you aren't able to spend the recommended minimum of 15 minutes a day in the midday sun for three days a week—and supplements aren't your thing—it's time to start adding vitamin D-rich foods to your meal-making repertoire.
Of course, you can load up on fortified foods—like cow's milk (and plant-based alternatives), yogurt, cereals, margarine, and orange juice—although it's iffy that they actually contain as much as their labels purport. Seafood-lovers, however, can rejoice: Fatty, oily fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel are terrific sources. Those who aren't too partial can grab extra (albeit lesser) bits of vitamin D from eggs, mushrooms, and certain cheeses. Here, eight foods that are chock-full of vitamin D, along with some tasty recipes to try no matter the season.
A standard three-ounce portion of canned sockeye salmon packs a whopping 17.9 mcg of vitamin D—the highest of any food around—which is more than enough for one day's worth. Oddly enough, one 2007 study on the vitamin D content of fish showed that baking or frying fresh fish decreases its vitamin D content—in this case by 6.8 mcg—and that fish's vitamin D content varies widely, even within species. At any rate, salmon is the big winner, and here's just one of the delicious ways to prepare it.
Orange-Spiced Salmon With Spaghetti Squash
Chef Heidi from FoodieCrush clipped this 20-year-old recipe out of CookingLight's now-defunct magazine. In it, salmon and spaghetti squash commingle for a comfort-meets-healthy meal that gets its zestiness from Chinese five-spice powder and Dijon mustard, and its sweetness from brown sugar (it caramelizes in the oven) that's spread over the salmon.
Easily mistaken for salmon with its similarly pink flesh, rainbow trout is a mostly freshwater fish with a somewhat milder flavor. And, with 16.2 micrograms per three-ounce serving (that's 1.2 more than the daily recommended allowance) cooked rainbow trout is number-two on the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans list of foods with the most vitamin D content. Oven-baked fillets are healthy, a cinch to cook, and uber-flavorful, too.
Rainbow Trout Fillets With Roasted Broccoli
The food stylist and photographer Fida, of Sweet and Savory Pursuits, developed this easy, 30-minute sheet-pan meal that's the perfect foil for too-busy home cooks. She roasts the broccoli alongside the trout and gives this clean, healthy dish a Mediterranean twist with a dollop of homemade tahini sauce. Further the Adriatic vibes with a simple side salad dressed in lemon juice and oil.
With a comparable nutritional profile to canned chunk-light tuna packed in oil—but with less mercury and among the highest heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid content of any fish—mackerel is another great source of vitamin D. One three-ounce portion of cooked mackerel yields 9.7 mcg of the vitamin, or roughly 65% of the RDA.
Spicy Mackerel With Raw Papaya Salad
Spiced, fried mackerel shines while a side of sweet papaya salad tempers the heat in this recipe by chef and cookbook author, Kankana Saxena, of Playful Cooking. A dry spice rub that includes dry red chilies and coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds brings out the bold flavor of the mackerel, while Indian dry mango powder adds requisite tang.
There aren't many plant-based sources of vitamin D, but the vitamin D content of portobello mushrooms (a half-cup contains 7.9 mcg) actually beats out certain types of fish like tuna, halibut, and herring. One caveat: Part of what makes this stat true depends on whether said shrooms were exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light.
Portobello mushrooms (aka super-large cremini mushrooms), in particular, contain ergosterol, a "precursor" to vitamin D synthesis, which helps the fungi produce even more vitamin D upon exposure to the sun's rays. Although portobello mushrooms are the highest vitamin D providers among all types, morel and shitake mushrooms have decent amounts, too.
Portobello Steaks With Avocado Chimichurri
Perfect for throwing on the grill and equally delicious when browned and caramelized in a cast-iron skillet, portobello "steaks" are meatier answers to staid veggie burgers. The folks over at Minimalist Baker marinate several mushrooms in oil and balsamic vinegar, along with steak sauce, garlic, and paprika, and top them with a spicy, buttery, avocado-based chimichurri sauce.
Canned Tuna in Oil
Three ounces of canned, light tuna fish packed in oil contains 5.7 mcg of vitamin D (one can typically contains five ounces)—which is good news if fresh fish can't always be on the menu, and also because the canned version also contains less mercury than fresh and frozen tuna steaks.
Tuscan Tuna Sandwich
Chef and cookbook author, Tieghan Gerard of Half Baked Harvest uses canned tuna packed in oil to create a Tuscan-style tuna sandwich made even better when piled atop crusty ciabatta bread. Naturally, chopped kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes give the tuna mixture its Italian flair, and the traditional mayo binding agent is swapped for a tahini-yogurt-basil sauce.
Canned Sardines in Oil
These small, oily, cold-water fish are known to be very nutrient-dense but can also be high in salt, so watch yourself. In addition to being good sources of vitamin D (three ounces of sardines contain 4.1 mcg, or 27% of the RDA), they're also wonderful sources of calcium, niacin, and selenium, which aids in thyroid function.
Tarte Aux Sardines
Leave it to the chic Mimi Thorisson, the French foodie behind Manger, to offer up a worthy sardine tart recipe. In it, she rolls a puff pastry into a circle, layers on diced tomatoes, sautéed sardines, fresh basil, and lemon zest, and finishes it with a generous olive-oil drizzle.
Most of the protein found in eggs comes from the whites—its fats and nutrients, including vitamin D, are found in the yolks. Although one large, hard-boiled egg doesn't contain that much of the vitamin (1.1 mcg, or just 7% of our RDA), its glut of other beneficial nutrients—such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory carotenoids (plant pigments) like lutein and zeaxanthin, which play a large role in eye health—make eggs a nutritious, food-based choice just the same.
But since they're naturally high in cholesterol (at 186 mg each), how you prepare eggs makes all the difference in their healthfulness; frying them in oil and/or butter may increase their link to heart disease.
Healthy Egg Salad
Erin Clarke, of Well Plated By Erin, forgoes fatty, caloric mayo for just-as-creamy avocado-and-Greek-yogurt, creating a healthy, dilly egg salad that's just as good inside a whole-grain sandwich as it is piled high, atop a simple bed of arugula.
Let's say you're at a party and the host is serving expensive black (from sturgeon) or less-expensive red (from salmon, trout, or whitefish) caviar. (Um, YAY!) Not only are both types of fish roe near equal in their nutritional values, but they're also very high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which help boost our immune systems.
Haven's Kitchen Latkes
There's really never a wrong way to eat caviar—it's equally delicious on its own. But a dollop atop these latkes (arguably the world's most delicious way to eat potatoes) by Alison Cayne of Eyeswoon, sends us to salty, savory heaven. (Torn, smoked salmon slices and globs of créme fraîche take us even further.)