Here’s how to get enough vitamin D on a vegan diet

Proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Prior to the 20th century, scientists believed that these were the only essential nutrients food had to offer us. But in the 1910s, things began to change. Research has shown that food actually also provides us with important vitamins and paying attention to them can reduce the risk of getting sick. By 1948, scientists had identified all of the major vitamins we know today, including vitamin D.

Known as the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies produce it when exposed to sunlight, vitamin D is important for maintaining our physical health, but it can also help support our mental health. Here’s everything you need to know about vitamin D, including how to get enough on a vegan diet.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps our bodies absorb calcium and phosphorus, both essential nutrients for bone health. The amount of vitamin D you need depends on several factors. Those who live in the north will need more because they don’t get enough sunlight during the winter months. (In some places in Northern Norway, for example, the sun doesn’t rise at all from mid-November to late January.) But another factor is age, because as we age, our ability to produce vitamin D decreases.

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According to the medical nonprofit Mayo Clinic, the recommended daily amount of vitamin D for people ages one to 70 is 600 international units (IU). Those over 70 need about 800 IU, while children under the age of one need about 400 IU. It’s important not to get too much vitamin D, as it can also harm your body by causing a buildup of calcium, which is also bad for your bones, as well as your kidneys and heart.

The Importance of Vitamin D

Because of its close relationship to calcium, not getting enough vitamin D can have a negative effect on your bones. Indeed, said Karl Isogna MD Yale medicine that the consequences may include “increased rates of bone loss or even osteomalacia (“soft bones”) in adults and rickets (a deforming bone disorder) in children.”

But vitamin D has other benefits as well. “Many organs and tissues in the body have receptors for vitamin D,” he notes Harvard Health. “This suggests important roles beyond bone health, and scientists are actively investigating other possible functions.” The prestigious publication also notes that research suggests vitamin D may even reduce the growth of cancer cells and inflammation, as well as help the body control infections.

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But aside from physical health, vitamin D deficiency has also been shown to have mental health consequences. Research suggests it may increase the likelihood of depression. For example, one review, published in 2014, looked at 15 studies regarding vitamin D and depression. He indicated that increasing supplementation beyond 800 units per day can help improve symptoms.

What are vitamin D supplements made of?

There are two different types of vitamin D: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. In supplements, the latter is often made from lanolin, a type of wax made from sheep to help keep their wool dry, meaning it’s usually not vegan. (It can also come from lichen, which comes from fungi and algae.) Vitamin D2, however, is usually vegan, because it comes from plants.

Vegan sources of vitamin D

Because dietary sources of vitamin D are limited, it’s not always easy to get enough vitamin D from your diet. But that said, there are plenty of other ways to get enough, even as a vegan. One way is via supplementation (which we’ll discuss later), but getting enough sun is also important. And, while they’re not as plentiful as some other vitamins, there are some foods that are fortified with vitamin D. Here’s what you need to know.

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1 Sunlight

Getting out in the sun is one of the best ways to get enough vitamin D. This is because when the sun’s rays hit the cholesterol in our skin cells, a process of vitamin D synthesis starts. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend whole days on sunbathe to produce enough vitamin. Research suggests that 13 minutes of midday sunshine three times a week is sufficient in the UK in summer.

It’s important to note that while the sun helps with vitamin D production, exposure can also be very dangerous, as it can cause sunburn and even increase your risk of skin cancer. Always practice sun protection if you go out in the sun, by wearing a hat and sunglasses and using sunscreen.

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2 Mushrooms

Some types of mushrooms contain vitamin D because, like us, they generate the vitamin when exposed to sunlight. But not all mushrooms are grown in the light. In fact, some can grow up in total darkness. So, if you’re at the grocery store, check the label on mushrooms to make sure they contain vitamin D.

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3 Fortified drinks

While beverages don’t usually contain vitamin D naturally, some have the added vitamin. Look for juices, like Tropicana’s No Pulp Calcium + Vitamin D, for example, that have added nutrients. Plant-based milks also often contain vitamin D. Oatly fortifies its products with the nutrient, as do Alpro, Plenish, and many others.

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4 Fortified cereals

Just like milk and juice, cereals are also often fortified with vitamins. While many contain the non-vegan version of vitamin D3, a handful contain plant-based D2 instead. Kellogg’s Fruit ‘n Fiber, for example, contains vitamin D, but the brand has confirmed in the past that the cereal is vegan. Ready Brek is also free from animal products and contains several vitamins, including vitamin D.

The best vegan vitamin D supplements

The truth is, it’s not easy to get vitamin D from food alone. Also, a significant number of people live in places where there is no sun all year round. But don’t worry, if you’re struggling to increase your intake, this is where vegan vitamin D supplements come in. Here are some of the best.

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1 Now Organic

New Zealand brand Ora Organics is committed to creating its products with as many organic, plant-based ingredients as possible. That’s why his vitamin D3 tablets come from lichen instead of lanolin. To aid absorption, the brand recommends taking these tablets with breakfast.
Find it here

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2 My organic products

If you don’t like swallowing capsules or tablets, Mykind Organic, a supplement line founded by Alicia Silverstone and sold under the Garden of Life brand, also offers vitamin D3, but this time it’s in a spray form. Even better: it tastes like vanilla!
Find it here

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3 MyVegan

Of course, MyVegan’s Vitamin D is made with plant lichens (the clue’s in the name!) Instead of tablets, the nutrient is encased in easy-to-swallow soft gel capsules. And, again, the brand recommends taking its “source of the sun vitamin” with food.
Find it here

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4 Future type

Future Kind claims lanolin is “gross” (and we sort of have to agree), so, again, they’re using lichen-based vitamin D3 in these supplements. Additionally, when you purchase from Future Kind, you’ll receive “Kind Coins,” which you can use towards a future discount or choose to donate to animal sanctuaries.
FIND IT HERE

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5 Chewwies

Probably one of the best ways to take vitamins is in gummy form. That way, it doesn’t even feel like a chore, it feels like a pleasure. With a pleasant lemon flavour, Chewwies Vegan Vitamin D3 Gummies are suitable for both adults and children.
Find it here

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