Natural Sources of Vitamin D for the Dark Days

I’ve talked at length about the importance of vitamin D in health – particularly its role in maintaining immunity and protecting fertility. Moreover, insufficient and deficient levels of vitamin D are linked to chronic disease: autoimmune disorders, infertility, cancer, depression, chronic pain, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, cognitive dysfunction, you name it. This nutrient – truly a pre-hormone – is critical to overall health and well-being. It is vital to health.

Sadly, approximately 70% of children suffer from suboptimal levels of vitamin D and so do most adults. While most of us in good health can manufacture vitamin D from adequate sun exposure, we’re still not getting adequate sun exposure. We spend our days indoors, and when we do venture outside we slather ourselves in UV-blocking sun creams which may very well block ultra violet light, but also block our bodies’ ability to produce vitamin D.

Now that the days have grown dark and the sun hangs low in the sky, we’re receiving fewer and fewer of its valuable rays. After all, the shortest day of the year is but a few weeks away. So as the days become colder and shorter, it’s wise to investigate alternative sources of vitamin D. Fortunately, nourishing foods offer a good source of vitamin D – and that’s without fortification.

Pastured Lard

Believe it or not, lard is a health food. Yes, really. You see hogs are monogastric animals – that is they have one stomach, and like all monogastric animals, they store vitamin D in their fat. Of course, hogs, much like humans must have access to adequate sunlight in order to produce adequate levels of vitamin D in their fat.   The manner in which an animal is raised greatly affects the nutritional quality of its meat, fat and milk. Recent nutritional analysis indicates that the lard from a pasture-raised hog contains   significantly more vitamin D than that of one that has been conventionally raised.

Pastured lard can be used in a variety of ways: homemade mayonnaise and potato chips, in biscuits and pie crusts or for frying and braising.

Cod Liver Oil

A Note on Seafood

Fish and shellfish have played an enormous role in traditional diets cross-globally; however threats of overfishing, polluted waters and damaged the sustainability of these foods. Visit Seafood Watch for more information about making sustainable choices in your seafood consumption.

Cod liver oil, especially fermented cod liver oil (see sources) is also a potent source of naturally occurring vitamin D as well as pre-formed vitamin A.   Just 1 teaspoon of high vitamin fermented cod liver oil contains approximately 1950 IU of vitamin D – though the vitamin content may vary slightly from batch to batch since a good cod liver oil will not be augmented by potentially toxic synthetic additives.

Cold-water, Oily Fish

Oily fish provide an excellent food-based source of vitamin D.   A 3-oz portion of sardines provide approximately 228 IU vitamin D. Herring, like other oily fish, is an excellent source of vitamin D with one 3-oz portion providing approximately 576 IU vitamin D.   100 grams of wild-caught, canned salmon with bones provides 763   IU vitamin D.   3 ounces of mackerel sashimi will provide approximately 300 IU of vitamin D.

While pickled herring may take some getting used too, other oily fish can be served in a variety of ways.   Consider sardines on crackers or in a salad, and canned salmon can be easily served in a chowder or in my favorite version as salmon cakes with homemade wasabi mayonnaise.

Oysters on the Half Shell

Oysters are nutritional powerhouses, offering zinc, vitamin B12 and iron in addition to 269 IU vitamin D.   While some folks prefer their oysters naked, dressing them with vinegar, relishes or even Moroccan Preserved Lemon can be a nice change of pace.

Pastured Egg Yolk

Pastured egg yolk, like pastured lard, offers more vitamin D than an egg from a conventionally raised hen; however, its a small amount by comparison to pastured lard and oily fish.

Caviar & Roe

While you’re at the sushi bar enjoying your vitamin D-packed mackerel sashimi, consider adding an order of ikura or other roe.   Fish roe, like concentrated bubbles of nutrients, offer a fair amount of vitamin D as well as other fat-soluble nutrients.   Roe can also be served over pasta, in dips or on blini in the Russian style.

Don’t Miss a Thing!

Inspired Real Food Recipes
Delivered to Your Inbox

What people are saying

  1. Deb says

    Okay, I guess I really do need to get going on the lard making. The whole thing is just feeling so scary with the pot of bubbling fat and potential for burns that I’ve been putting it off.

  2. says

    Great post, thanks! I can feel myself slipping into Vit D deficiencies. See, I used to work my garden between 10-12, now I’m working inside @ a paying job. I get off @ 2:00, get the kids from school and by the time I get home, the sun has slipped behind the trees.

    I had no idea about the lard. This is great news since I’ve been getting lard from the slaughterhouse where I buy the pastured pork/beef. Woot!

  3. Lisa Z says

    Wonderful article! It strikes me that these are the traditional foods of northern peoples. Pickled herring is on every Scandinavian smorgasbord, and it has somewhat remained in my own Minnesota family of Scandinavian descent. I can get fresh MN herring, too, so that is wonderful. I will be on the lookout for these foods more.

  4. Kathy says

    Would this be a good reason to eat a lot of pork in winter? Especially bacon and sausage? The pasturing farmers around here seem to be pushing those products more now than they did in summer.

  5. says

    Thanks for the great article. I feel very blessed to have access to great deep sea fish and oysters. We are now getting easier access to pastured pork products too.
    Keep the info coming =)

  6. marina says

    I have been giving my kids cod liver oil for a few years no, and they have never had a lasting, big cold (just some sniffles, coughs and maybe a small fever very rarely).
    Good to know about the lard, the last day I was at a health food store and they had duck fat and lard, but I just got the duck fat. Will buy lard next time!

  7. Corinne says

    I would love the references you used for this article, I am putting together a handout for my patients and I want to include your information, but I need references. Thank you, thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>