For most people, sun exposure alone is not enough to maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D. With many dietary sources being animal-based, how do you get enough vitamin D on a vegan diet? In this interview, Dr. Michael Greger explains how to ensure adequate vitamin D levels.
Table Of Contents
- The Role of Vitamin D in the Body
- Vitamin D2 vs D3 & Plant-Based Concerns
- Introducing Dr. Michael Greger & the Vegan Nutrition Concerns Series
- Dr. Greger on How to Get Vitamin D on a Plant-Based Vegan Diet
- A Note on Vegan Vitamin D Supplements
- In Closing...
Vitamin D is associated with being out in the sun, but considering an estimated 70% of the population is deficient in this important nutrient, most of us are not getting adequate vitamin D from sunshine alone.
Vitamin D is essential for bone health, helping calcium travel from our intestines to our bones. It also benefits muscle function and is associated with lower risks of breast and colon cancer. Vitamin D may also play a role in mood stabilization and in fighting depression.
Vitamin D comes in two basic forms: D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 is present in vegetables and various supplements. Vitamin D3 is mainly formed from our skin’s exposure to the sun, but is also present in a variety of animal products, like fatty fish and their oils, beef liver, egg yolks, and fortified dairy and grain products.
Fortified products, however, have marginal levels for the most part, and are not well regulated. So what’s a vegan—particularly a vegan in non-tropical climates—to do?
How to get vitamin D on a plant-based vegan diet is a common nutritional concern. How do you get vitamin D from the food you eat? What are plant-based sources? Are there plant-based vitamin D supplements?
Dr. Greger is a licensed general practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition, an author, and an internationally-recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and matters of public health.
This interview is the fifth in the Vegan Nutrition Concerns Series with Dr. Greger. This series addresses common nutrient-specific concerns related to a plant-based diet, and touches upon the health impacts of animal products.
The following transcript of my interview with Dr. Greger (from the video above) is edited for clarity, order, and readability.
Dr. Greger: Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin. It’s actually not a vitamin, but a hormone our skin makes when it’s exposed to sunlight.
Of course, [sun exposure] depends on where you live on the planet. We evolved running around naked in equatorial Africa getting baked in the sun all day. We just weren’t meant to live at such latitudes where during the winter months (up in Boston for example) no matter how much you sunbathe naked on the commons, you are not going to make enough vitamin D.
There is some vitamin D you made in the summer that will be stored in your fat, but your levels will dip below what we believe is optimal.
Five minutes [of exposure on the forearms and face] can be enough mid-day sun, particularly during the winter months, or anytime during the year for people not getting enough mid-day sun, and for [those with light skin] at low enough latitudes.
But, particularly [those living] at higher latitudes, with darker skin, people who are older, or those who have jobs where they’re inside all day—no matter how sunny it is outside, [they] should get their vitamin D from supplements.
Dr. Greger: For people not getting enough mid-day sun, I recommend taking 2,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D per day, which is what I do.
While vitamin D2 comes from plant sources, vitamin D3 is often made from lanolin, a derivative of sheep’s wool. I asked Dr. Greger if there are plant-based supplement alternatives.
Dr. Greger: All D2 sources come from fungi, from mushrooms. And there are now plant-based sources of D3, which are made from lichen.
A word of caution: You can take too many vitamin D supplements, resulting in high blood calcium levels, which can lead to nausea, constipation, confusion, abnormal heart rhythm, and even kidney stones. So please stay within doctor-recommended doses.
Dr. Greger: Studies show that optimal vitamin D levels associated with longer life have come from D3, so I [tell] people that D3 is better just because we have data there. You can get plant-based D3 just as easily [as animal-based D3].
As we covered in the interview with Dr. Greger, vitamin D2 is always vegan as it comes from fungi.
However, vitamin D3 supplements are usually made from lanolin, which is a derivative of sheep’s wool. However, these days there are plant-based vegan D3 products on the market. So just be sure to read the supplement’s information carefully!
I hope you enjoyed hearing from Dr. Greger on the matter of how to get vitamin D on a vegan diet. I’d love to hear from you: Where do your get your vitamin D? Let me know in the comments!
— Emily Moran Barwick
Please note that when it comes to your health and nutrition, there is no substitute for the guidance of a trained medical professional, especially if you have any medical conditions or complications.
Finding a plant-based provider can be challenging, depending on your location and health insurance (or lack thereof). In the accordion below are online directories for plant-based providers. I hope to expand the list to include ones that serve more countries. If you know of any additional directories, please let me know!
Plant-based medical provider directories
Please note: in listing these directories, I am not recommending or endorsing them or any health care providers listed within them.
- The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) (Worldwide)
- Plantrician Providers (U.S.)
- Plant-Based Health Professionals (UK)
- Plant-Based Canada (Canada)
- Vegan Friendly Registered Dietitians (Worldwide – telehealth) from Challenge22
Do you know of other directories? Especially ones serving more parts of the world? Please let me know!
MORE FROM THE VEGAN NUTRITION CONCERNS SERIES:
- The Crime Of Raising Vegan Kids | When Diet Is Deadly
- How NOT To DIE: Foods That Add Years | Dr. Michael Greger
- Deadly Nutrition: The REAL Dietary Killers | Dr. Michael Greger
- How to Get Carnitine, Carnosine & Creatine on a Vegan Diet | Dr. Michael Greger of Nutritionfacts.org
- How to Get Iodine on a Plant-Based Vegan Diet | Dr. Michael Greger of Nutritionfacts.org
- How to Get Zinc on a Plant-Based Vegan Diet | Dr. Michael Greger of Nutritionfacts.org
- How to Get Vitamin B12 on a Plant-Based Vegan Diet | Dr. Michael Greger of Nutritionfacts.org
- How to Get Iron on a Plant-Based Vegan Diet | Dr. Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org
- How to Get Calcium on a Plant-Based Vegan Diet | Dr. Michael Greger of Nutritionfacts.org
- How to Get Omega-3 on a Plant-Based Vegan Diet | Dr. Michael Greger of Nutritionfacts.org