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Food Sources of Vitamin D Aren’t Created Equal

Food Sources of Vitamin D Aren’t Created Equal

When thinking about getting enough vitamin D, almost everyone thinks of the hot ball of fire in the sky: the sun. While sunshine is the best way to soak in this nutrient, you may not always get the opportunity to spend enough time outdoors. Luckily, there are plenty of food sources of vitamin D. Unluckily, all of these food sources aren’t created equal and aren’t sustainable. Let’s break down a couple of examples.

Salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D, but according to The Daily Green, farmed salmon has far less of the vitamin that wild-caught salmon. The website also shared this interview about salmon’s inferior farmed cousins:

George Mateljan, founder of Health Valley Foods, says that farmed fish are “far inferior” to their wild counterparts. “Despite being much fattier, farmed fish provide less usable beneficial omega-3 fats than wild fish,” he says. Indeed, U.S. Department of Agriculture research bears out that the fat content of farmed salmon is 30-35 percent by weight while wild salmons’ fat content is some 20 percent lower, though with a protein content about 20 percent higher. And farm-raised fish contain higher amounts of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats instead of the preponderance of healthier omega-3s found in wild fish.

“Due to the feedlot conditions of aquafarming, farm-raised fish are doused with antibiotics and exposed to more concentrated pesticides than their wild kin,” reports Mateljan. He adds that farmed salmon are given a salmon-colored dye in their feed “without which their flesh would be an unappetizing grey color.”

Does that sound appetizing to you? Me neither. Other kinds of fish, including tuna, mackerel, sole and flounder, are also good sources of the vitamin—but these can have certain sustainability questions, too, such as overfishing. My verdict: If I’m near a coast, I may occasionally dine on wild-caught salmon or other wild-caught fish for their health benefits. If I’m not, I’ll look for another good option.

Eggs can be a great source of vitamin D—but the operative words here are can be. Tests show that eggs from hens that are raised on pasture, eating a natural diet of grasses, bugs and worms, have four to six times as much vitamin D as eggs from factory-raised hens. That’s a huge difference! And it means finding eggs that were raised in a healthy, sustainable, ethical way is not only good for the environment and the welfare of the birds, it’s also way better for you. Factory-farmed eggs also have more cholesterol, more saturated fat, less vitamin A, less omega-3 fatty acids, less vitamin E and less beta carotene. For more information on the nutritional value of factory eggs versus pastured eggs, visit Mother Earth News’ Chicken and Egg Page.

Many Americans are deficient in vitamin D. If you’re trying to increase your intake of this essential nutrient by eating vitamin-rich foods, consider how the food was raised. If you don’t, you may not be getting the maximum health benefits and you may be supporting an industry that pumps out nutritionally inferior foods in the interest of maximizing production and profit.

Photo by Fotolia/Ramon Grosso

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Shelley Stonebrook

Shelley Stonebrook is an Associate Editor at Mother Earth News—North America’s most popular magazine about sustainable, self-reliant living—where she works on exciting projects such as Organic Gardening content and the Vegetable Garden Planner. Shelley is particularly interested in organic gardening, small-scale, local food production, waste reduction, food preservation and cooking. In her spare time, she posts in her personal blog, The Rowdy Radish.


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12:41AM PDT on Mar 31, 2013


5:03AM PDT on Oct 23, 2012

...That photo. Yum.

1:05AM PDT on Oct 23, 2012

Thanks! Noted!

1:01AM PDT on Oct 23, 2012


5:46AM PDT on Oct 22, 2011

I take my 1000 IUs of D all winter. Rarely any sun up here in Canada in the winter. And when there is it is usually too cold to be outside for long.

11:33AM PDT on Oct 21, 2011

Thanks---I always buy cage-free eggs! And I have extra Vitamin D that I forget to take.....I'll go get some now.

10:54AM PDT on Oct 21, 2011

Nice info - thank you.

7:17PM PDT on Oct 20, 2011

Thanks for that! Another reason to buy free-range!

7:58AM PDT on Oct 20, 2011

Thanks for posting.;)

5:23AM PDT on Oct 20, 2011

They certainly aren't created equal: some come from plant based sources and others come from senseless, neanderthal-like torture.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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