Vitamin D is naturally found in very few foods, and many people have a difficult time meeting their daily needs, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. While vegetarians are able to meet their vitamin D needs with cow's milk and eggs, vegans may have a tougher time and need to work a bit harder at finding good sources. Consult your doctor to discuss your diet and vitamin D status.
Why You Need Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for bone health. Not only does it help you absorb calcium, but vitamin D also supports bone growth and remodeling. While vegetarians and vegans tend to have a lower bone mineral density than meat eaters, according to a 2009 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they are not at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 600 international units to 800 international units.
The primary source of vitamin D in a vegan diet comes from fortified foods, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group. Good choices include fortified plant milks, orange juice and cereal.
For example, 1 cup of fortified orange juice contains 137 international units of vitamin D, meeting 34 percent of the daily value. A fortified almond or soy milk may meet 25 percent to 30 percent of the daily value, while a cup of fortified cereal may meet 10 percent or more of the daily value in a 1-cup serving.
Mushrooms grown in ultraviolet light are also a source of vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D in the mushroom will vary depending on how long the mushroom was exposed to the light. According to a report presented by the USDA Agricultural Research Center at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, on average a 100-gram serving of portobello mushroom, which is about one and a quarter mushroom caps, treated under UV light contains 140 international units to 752 international units of vitamin D.
If you're worried about not getting enough vitamin D from the food you eat, you may need to talk to your physician about taking a supplement. Some vitamin D supplements, namely vitamin D-3, come from animal sources. When looking for a vegan vitamin D supplement look for vitamin D-2, which is derived from yeast. According to ODS, vitamin D-2 may not be as effective as vitamin D-3 when taken at high doses. Your doctor can recommend a dosage that's both safe and effective.
About the Sun
What makes vitamin D different from other essential nutrients is that your body can manufacture the vitamin when your skin is exposed to sunlight. For adequate vitamin D production, ODS suggests five to 30 minutes of sun exposure three days a week between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on either your face, hands, arms, legs or back without sunscreen.
However, adequate vitamin D production depends on a number of factors such as skin tone, hemisphere, time of year, cloud cover and smog. Additionally, there is concern about sun exposure and skin cancer. Talk to your doctor about whether vitamin D via the sun is an option for you.