Ask Sharon: How do I get vitamin D on a plant-based diet?

Ask Sharon: How do I get vitamin D on a plant-based diet?

As part of my new program “Ask Sharon”, I am answering the top question of the month submitted through my blogFacebookTwitter  or Instagram to answer here. You can even win a prize! Don’t forget to submit your burning nutrition question this month via my blog, or other social media. Here is my favorite question this month. 

Question: How do I get vitamin D on a plant-based diet? Mike

Answer: That’s a really great question. In fact, vitamin D is a shortfall vitamin for many Americans, no matter what their diet. A recent study found that three-fourths of US teens and adults are deficient in vitamin D. Known as the “sunshine vitamin”, your body can make vitamin D through sun exposure, but since the industrial revolution most of us live our lives indoors, thus, reducing our supply of this important nutrient. Here are some important facts on vitamin D.

Vitamin D Facts for Vegetarians and Vegans

  1. Vitamin D is key to health. Available in few food sources (primarily fish), vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, as well as in immune, nerve and muscle function. In addition, it may play a role in protecting against cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and depression.
  2. Vegetarian D Sources. Vitamin D is available in dairy products (through fortification) and egg yolks.

Mushrooms exposed to light also can provide good sources of vitamin D.

  1. Vegan D intake. Vegans may be at greater risk for low vitamin D intake, but they can obtain vitamin D from regular exposure to sun and fortified foods.
  2. The sunshine vitamin. Most people get some of their vitamin D intake through sun exposure, but this is dependent upon season, time of day, length of day, cloud cover, smog, skin color, and sunscreen use.

Tips to Meet Your Vitamin D Needs for Vegetarians and Vegans

  1. Reach for fortified products. Many foods may be fortified with vitamin D—the primary source in US diets—including milk and milk alternatives, cereals, orange juice, yogurt, and mushrooms with vitamin D.
  2. Get a bi-weekly dose of sunshine. Aim for 5 – 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 am and 3 pm twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen to boost vitamin D intake.
  3. Consider vitamin D supplements. If diet intake and sun exposure falls short, vegans may need to supplement with vitamin D to meet recommended levels. Remember to discuss all dietary supplements with your health care provider. It’s important to note that vitamin D-3 (cholecalciferol) is of animal origin (lanolin), but vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is produced from yeast and is acceptable to vegans.

Image: Mushrooms at the Pasadena farmers market, Sharon Palmer, RDN

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