vitamin d for vegans

Vitamin D for Vegans

Vitamin D is important to your bone, muscle and nerve health. It helps in calcium absorption and protects you from cancer and heart diseases.

If you are a vegan or vegetarian living in a tropical country then most of your vitamin D comes from mid day sun exposure. It is also called sunshine vitamin. But if you are living in a country where there is not enough sunshine or you live indoors most of the day then you will not get enough vitamin d to stay healthy.

A component Vitamin D2 comes from vegetables but the most popular supplements Vitamin D3 is derived from animal sources.

Table of Contents

Why is Vitamin D Important?

Vitamin D is more important for your health than you may be aware of.

Vitamin D

  • Increases calcium absorption for stronger bones
  • Improves muscle strength
  • Prevents cancer
  • Lowers multiple sclerosis risks
  • Reduces osteoporosis risks much higher than the calcium

Vitamin D is popularly called sunshine vitamin. It is abundantly available in most parts of the world. But our modern lifestyle pushes us to remain indoors. As a result we don't get enough sunshine exposure resulting in Vitamin D deficiency. In addition to that, some parts of the world do not have enough sunshine. So by putting all these factors together, it is estimated that 70%of the world population is deficient in vitamin D.


Vitamin D Requirements

Irrespective of where you live and what is your lifestyle, following are the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) developed by Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies for healthy individuals:

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin D
0–12 months 400 IU 400 IU    
1–13 years 600 IU 600 IU    
14–18 years 600 IU 600 IU 600 IU 600 IU
19–50 years 600 IU 600 IU 600 IU 600 IU
51–70 years 600 IU 600 IU    
>70 years 800 IU 800 IU    

( IU = International Unit. 40 IU = 1 mcg)

How Vegans and Vegetarians Can Get Sufficient Vitamin D?

You can get your Vitamin D requirements from the following 3 sources. You have to use all three sources to get enough supply.

1. Sunshine

Our body is able to synthesise Vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet rays from sunlight under certain conditions. Just 15 to 20 minutes of Sun exposure on the hands, arms and face twice a week is good enough in most cases.

Following are variables that affect the vitamin d you get from sunshine

  • It is higher in summer months than winter
  • Tropical climates have more vitamin d. It depends on the latitude
  • Dark and dense clouds can take away as much as 50% of vitamin D
  • Best time to get highest UV B rays exposure for vitamin d is between 10 am to 3 pm during summer months
  • Sunscreens, pollution, darker skin pigmentation, clothing and aging reduce vitamin d synthesis by your body.

Get Some sunshine daily even if it us not the ideal sun condition. It will help.

You never get excess vitamin d from sunlight as our body will stop producing it when requirements are met. Too much sun exposure can increase skin cancer risks. So, be watchful.

2. Food

Most of the food's best sources of vitamin D3 are non vegetarian such as fatty fish oils(cod liver oil) and egg yolks. Other fishes. Like salmon, tuna mackerel and others are also good sources.

But for a vegan or vegetarian these sources are ruled out.

UV exposed mushrooms are the only vegan or vegetarian source of vitamin D. Unfortunately they are still not widely available. These mushrooms naturally produce and store vitamin d after being exposed to sunlight. Since they don't grow in the sunlight, they are exposed to UV after harvest.

Fortified soy milk is generally fortified with vitamin D2 which is a vegan source of vitamin d.

Although vitamin d fortified soy milk is considered food but it is fortified by supplements therefore can't really call it natural foods with vitamin d.

So for vegans there us not much choice on food items, but supplements can help.

Let us look at vitamin d supplements for vegans and vegetarians.


3. Supplements

If you are a vegan or vegetarian then you have to really look at the labels on supplements to ensure that they are not derived from animal sources.

Most of the popular Vitamin D3 supplements are made from animal sources. It is generally made from lanolin which comes from sheep's wool. Some Vitamin D3 supplements are made from lichen which is a vegetarian source.

So if you are buying Vitamin D3 then look for it's source.

Vitamin D2 is always vegan.

Both vitamin D2 and D3 have equal potency in most cases and there is not much of a difference. Some studies have found Vitamin D3 to be more potent at very high doses. But for general consumption D2 and D3 both are ok.

Almost all vitamin D fortified grains, juices and other products are fortified by vitamin D3 from lanolin unless otherwise specifically mentioned. Check the label before buying any fortified product.

Vitamin D and Old Vegan and Vegetarian People

As you grow older your requirement for vitamin D increases to maintain good bone, muscle and nerve health. If you are a vegan or vegetarian then it becomes even more prominent.

Taking vitamin D supplements becomes a necessity as your body will not synthesize enough vitamin d from food or sunshine. Although you still will get some vitamin d from food and sunshine.

Other Tips and Precautions

  • Vitamin D deficiency can expose you to higher risks of cancer, heart disease and other health problems.
  • Too much of vitamin d supplements can increase high calcium absorption causing kidney damage so always consult your doctor before you begin taking supplements.
  • Don't stay indoors all the time. Occasionally get 10-15 mites if sunshine at least 2-3 times a week for 15 minutes.

Vitamin D is important to stay healthy but getting sufficient from food is certainly a problem for vegans and vegetarians. So take supplements and get enough sunshine.