On dreary winter days, you may notice your mood and energy levels heading south. This may be the result of a lack of sunlight, which is how your body synthesizes vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression. In addition, your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to soft bones in children (rickets) and fragile, misshapen bones in adults (osteomalacia).
Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, weight gain and other maladies. Studies show that people with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of disease, although they don’t definitively prove that a lack of vitamin D causes disease — or that vitamin D supplements would lower the risk for developing these diseases.
That said, in addition to getting some sun exposure so that your body can make vitamin D, it’s also a good idea to get vitamin D in your diet. There aren’t too many foods that have the nutrient, but here are a few:
Mushrooms: Shiitake and button mushrooms both have vitamin D, although they contain significantly less than what you should be getting on a daily basis. For example, a serving of shiitake mushrooms has about one-thirteenth of your daily value.
Fish: Fatty fish like salmon (especially wild caught) and tuna are the best natural sources of vitamin D. A 3 oz serving of Sockeye salmon has more than 100% of the daily value of vitamin D. Cod liver oil, sardines, mackerel and swordfish are also great sources (although swordfish is often contaminated with high levels of mercury, so enjoy it in moderation and avoid it altogether if you’re pregnant).
Egg yolks: Though they get a bad rap for cholesterol content, egg yolks aren’t all bad. In addition to being a great source of protein and vital amino acids, a single egg yolk has 10% of the daily value of vitamin D. So, instead of discarding all of the yolks when making your scramble, consider using one yolk (out of 3 or 4 eggs).
There are also several fortified sources of vitamin D. Milk products are often D fortified, because vitamin D aids in calcium absorption. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified, so one way to get your daily dose is to have a bowl of cereal in the morning.