Vitamin D: Food Sources

May 2, 2007

In my Vitamin D: Sunshine and Skin Cancer post I mentioned the Greenland Inuit and that they would have acquired all the Vitamin D they need from food. Whenever I hear about an important vitamin/nutrient/macronutrient for health, I ask myself what source contains it for each of the following three well known healthy cultures:

  1. Greenland Inuit (no UV-B, no carbs, no fruits or vegetables)
  2. Okinawans (no dairy)
  3. The French (rich French food and the French Paradox)

Greenland Inuit get large amounts of Vitamin D from seafood and the aquatic mammals that they eat (including organ meat). The best non-sunshine source of Vitamin D is cod liver oil. Daily doses of cod liver oil is a common practice in Scandinavian countries and I don’t recall those societies having lower cancer rates than their western counterparts. I’m skeptical, therefore, that Vitamin D is a magic solution that needs to be taken in high doses (much higher than the recommended ~400 IU) as Dr. Cannell suggests in the Globe and Mail’s Five-Point Vitamin D Primer. Vitamin D can be toxic in high doses so the article also suggests getting tested for Vitamin D levels.

Our main food source for Vitamin D is seafood. I think a good general rule of thumb is that seafood high in Omega-3 is also high in Vitamin D. Unfortunately, it seems that very few foods in the USDA nutrition database have measured Vitamin D. 100g of canned Sockeye Salmon is listed as 763 IU (a small can is just over 200g). Canned Pacific Sardines is 480 IU per 100g. Cod liver oil has 450 IU in 1 teaspoon.

So what to do? Try to catch short (say 10-20 minutes) mid-day sun exposure in the summer when you can. Eat seafood, especially seafood high in omega-3 often. Take a multi-vitamin a day (~400 IU of Vitamin D usually). Maybe supplement with cod liver oil in the winter. Be happy :-)