Vegan Wonder

Unlock the Power of Vegan Vitamin D: Superfoods to Boost Your Intake

Often called the “sunshine vitamin,” many people are unaware that they are not getting enough vitamin D. This important nutrient plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being, especially bone health. For vegans and vegetarians, obtaining enough vitamin D can be a challenge. Here’s a guide to delicious, plant-based foods that are packed with vitamin D, so you can boost your intake naturally and feel your best.

Why Vegans Need to Prioritize Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for maintaining strong bones, a healthy immune system, and optimal brain function. It works by helping the body absorb calcium from foods and supplements. When you don’t get enough vitamin D, your body can’t effectively use calcium, which can lead to bone weakness and fractures.

The active form of vitamin D, calcitriol, also plays a role in immune system function, cell growth, and neuromuscular function. A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to conditions like rickets (a condition that causes weak bones), osteomalacia (which affects bone density and muscle strength), and even certain types of cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders.

For vegans, getting enough vitamin D can be more challenging since many of the richest dietary sources come from animal products. For example, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, egg yolks, and liver are all high in vitamin D. However, there are plenty of plant-based foods that can help you meet your needs. Here are some of the best vegan-friendly sources of vitamin D.

Vegan-Friendly Vitamin D Superstars


Certain types of mushrooms are naturally high in vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). Shiitake, oyster, and maitake mushrooms are all good sources, with maitake mushrooms containing the highest amounts. A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of dried maitake mushrooms provides about 780 IU of vitamin D. To get the most vitamin D from mushrooms, expose them to sunlight or UV light. This can increase their vitamin D content significantly.

To prepare sun-dried mushrooms, spread them out on a tray and leave them in the sun for about 30 minutes. You can also purchase mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light, such as Portobello mushrooms labeled as “The Mushroom That’s Good for You” by SunFresh Mushrooms. Cooking mushrooms can decrease their vitamin D levels, so try to include them in raw or lightly cooked dishes.

Fortified Plant-Based Milks

Many plant-based milks are fortified with vitamin D. Soy milk is often fortified with the highest amounts, with some brands providing more than 100% of the recommended daily value per cup (240 ml). Other plant-based milks, such as almond milk, oat milk, and rice milk, also offer fortified options. Check the nutrition label to find out how much vitamin D a particular brand contains.

For example, Silk Unsweetened Original Soy Milk provides 100 IU of vitamin D per cup (240 ml), while the same size serving of Malk Organics Original Oat Milk offers 120 IU. To get the most vitamin D from plant-based milks, choose a brand that is fortified with at least 100 IU per cup (240 ml).

Seaweed and Algae

Sea vegetables like seaweed, kelp, and dulse are good sources of vitamin D. For example, 1 gram (about 1/3 ounce) of dried wakame seaweed contains about 100 IU of vitamin D. You can add seaweed to salads, sushi, or stir-fries, or rehydrate it and snack on it plain.

You can also take a supplement containing algae oil, which is rich in vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). This form of vitamin D is the same one produced naturally in the skin upon sun exposure. Algae oil is sourced from microalgae, making it a vegan-friendly option. One tablespoon (15 ml) of algae oil contains about 1,700 IU of vitamin D3.

Another option is nori, a type of edible seaweed often used to make sushi. Nori is low in calories and high in fiber, making it a nutritious addition to any plant-based diet. One sheet (6 inches by 6 inches or 15 cm by 15 cm) of nori contains about 5-20 IU of vitamin D, depending on the brand. Look for brands like Lundberg Family Farms and Eden Foods, which offer nori that is richer in vitamin D.

Sunlight: Nature’s Vitamin D Source

When possible, allow your skin to be exposed to sunlight during peak hours (around 10 am to 3 pm) without sunscreen. This can help your body naturally produce vitamin D. About 15-20 minutes of sun exposure on the face, arms, and hands is usually enough to make a significant amount of vitamin D. However, be sure to protect your skin from excessive sun exposure by wearing protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses.

Keep in mind that several factors can affect your body’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight, including skin tone, latitude, season, age, and sunscreen use. Darker skin tones require longer periods of sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as lighter skin tones. People living closer to the equator generally have higher vitamin D levels because they receive more sun exposure year-round. Older adults and young children may also have more difficulty producing vitamin D from sunlight.

If you’re relying on sunlight to get your vitamin D, it’s a good idea to have your vitamin D levels checked regularly to ensure you are getting enough. You can work with a healthcare professional to determine how much sun exposure is right for you based on your individual needs and circumstances.

Supplementation: When and How to Supplement

If you are unable to consume enough vitamin D-rich foods or spend enough time in the sun, you may want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Vegans should look for supplements that are labeled “vegan” and contain vitamin D3, the active form of vitamin D. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is also vegan but is less bioavailable than vitamin D3.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin D for adults is 600 IU (15 mcg). However, many experts recommend higher amounts, especially for those with darker skin tones or those who live in areas with limited sunlight. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine the right dose for you based on your individual health needs and circumstances.

When choosing a vitamin D supplement, look for one that is USP-verified or NSF-certified. These third-party organizations ensure that the product meets specific quality standards. A good option for vegans is Garden of Life Vitamin Code RAW D3 Vegan. One vegan capsule contains 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 along with vitamin K2, which helps support calcium absorption and bone health.

You can take vitamin D supplements at any time of day, with or without food. If you are taking a high dose of vitamin D, you may want to split it into two doses and take it in the morning and evening. Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.

Meal Planning and Recipe Ideas

Here are some simple plant-based meal ideas that include vitamin D-rich foods. These delicious dishes will help you boost your vitamin D intake without much effort.


  • Smoothie with fortified plant-based milk, mushrooms, and a scoop of vegan protein powder
  • Overnight oats made with fortified plant-based milk, topped with sun-dried mushrooms, and a handful of nuts
  • Avocado toast topped with nori strips and a glass of fortified soy milk


  • Shiitake mushroom stir-fry with tofu, bell peppers, and snap peas, served over rice
  • Oyster mushroom tacos with black beans, avocado, salsa, and lime
  • Grilled portobello mushroom burgers with sweet potato fries and a glass of fortified almond milk


  • Roasted seaweed snacks
  • Mushroom and almond butter toast
  • Vegan ice cream made with fortified plant-based milk

Monitoring and Maintaining Optimal Vitamin D Levels

To check your vitamin D levels, ask your healthcare professional to order a 25(OH)D test. This blood test measures the amount of vitamin D in your body and can help determine if you have enough or if you need to make some changes to your diet or supplement regimen. The optimal vitamin D level for most people is around 50-80 ng/mL (125-200 nmol/L).

If your vitamin D levels are low, work with your healthcare professional to create a plan for increasing your intake through diet and/or supplements. You may need to take a higher dose of vitamin D initially to bring your levels up, and then gradually decrease your intake to maintain an optimal level. Be patient and persistent, and remember that the benefits of having enough vitamin D are well worth the effort.