Vitamin D is a very special vitamin because it is the only vitamin that the body can produce.
Pretty awesome, right?
Yes, but if the body can make vitamin D, then why do you need to care about it as a vegan?
Well, as so often in life, there is a catch. And that is that vitamin D can only be produced under very specific circumstances. And if you can’t meet those, then you run the risk of developing a deficiency.
So what can you do to make sure you get enough vitamin D as a vegan? Well, be sure to read this article until the end to learn everything you need to know about vitamin D as a vegan.
Among others, we’ll cover:
- – The benefits of vitamin D
- – Consequences of a deficiency
- – Plant sources of vitamin D
- – The circumstances that are required for your body to make vitamin D
- – Vitamin D Supplements
- – Common deficiency symptoms
- – And how you can test if you get enough vitamin D.
So, are you ready to learn all of that and more? Awesome! Let’s go. 😁
The benefits of vitamin D
Let’s start by talking about why it is so important that you make sure you get enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D has many essential functions in the body, but it is most well known for its role in bone health.
But vitamin D is also needed for
- – the immune system
- – calcium absorption
- – phosphate metabolism
- – cell signal transmission
- – protein synthesis
- – several regulatory functions.
One big benefit of vitamin D is that it can help keep your immune system strong. Also, it may help prevent some chronic diseases, including
- – High blood pressure
- – Coronary heart disease
- – Diabetes mellitus
- – Some autoimmune disorders (such as Multiple Sclerosis, Type I Diabetes and Arthritis)
- – Chronic inflammatory bowel disease
- – And some cancers.
What are the consequences of a vitamin D deficiency?
Now that you know why your body needs vitamin D let’s talk about why it is so important that you make sure you get enough.
Low vitamin D levels can increase your risk of bone fractures, osteomalacia (demineralization of your bones), and osteoporosis.
Other consequences of a deficiency can be a weakened immune system, nerve problems, muscular disorders, problems with blood flow, and a higher risk of depression.
In children, vitamin D deficiency can lead to rachitis, which can cause bone growth problems, may deform the spine, and delay dental development.
Additionally, there is an increased risk of infections and bone fractures, as well as less powerful muscles.
Moreover, there may be a connection between the development of developing some chronic diseases and vitamin D deficiency, but further studies are necessary.
Vegan sources of vitamin D
Plant foods are not a good source of vitamin D. Some plants, such as avocados, contain small amounts of the vitamin, but most don’t have any at all.
Mushrooms are the only plants that have a more substantial amount and thus may be able to help you meet your need.
But it depends a lot on the kind of mushrooms you choose. For example, Champignons only have a fraction of the vitamin D that Shiitake mushrooms have.
Even so, to meet your required vitamin D intake with mushrooms alone, you would have to eat around 1 kg of a day, which is an unrealistic amount for most.
Some food manufacturers now expose their mushrooms to UV light to increase their vitamin D content. HOWEVER, not all brands do this, and it is also not done in every country.
So, if that is something you are interested in, then I highly encourage you to do a lot of research and get regular blood tests done.
Fortified vegan products like plant drinks, soy products, breakfast cereals, and orange juice can also be a vitamin D source.
But usually, these products don’t have enough vitamin D in them to be your only source, or you’d have to consume huge amounts of them.
But if plants are not a good source, then how can you meet your vitamin D need as a vegan?
Well, there are two ways, and the exciting part is that for many people, it’s not either option #1 or option #2 but that both kind of complement each other.
Sounds confusing? Don’t worry; it’s not at all. 😊
Let’s start with option #1.
How to get vitamin D through the body’s own production.
As we briefly touched on in the intro, under specific circumstances, the body can produce vitamin D itself. Whether or not you meet these circumstances depends mainly on
- 1) where you live
- 2) the current season
- 3) and your lifestyle.
For your body to produce vitamin D, you need to be out in the sun at least three times a week for about 10-30 minutes each. The number of minutes depends on the season, time of day you go outside, and your skin type.
For example, if you have a lighter skin tone, it’s the middle of summer, and you go out at noon, then 10 minutes will be likely enough.
But if it’s early spring, you have a darker skin tone and go out in the late afternoon; then you need to aim for 30 minutes.
Generally, the best time to go outside is between 11 am and 3 pm.
Also, it is important that at least 25% of your skin is uncovered (f.e. Face, hands, and parts of your arms and legs) and that you are not wearing any sunscreen. *
Moreover, the sun needs to have a certain strength to enable vitamin D production.
And in many parts of the world, the sun is only strong enough during the warmer months (in Western Europe, that means April – October, for example).
So, unless you are one of the lucky ones who lives somewhere where it’s warm all year (I envy you, by the way), you are going to have a hard time meeting these requirements in the winter months and maybe even in summer if you don’t spend a lot of time outside.
And that’s where the necessity of taking supplements, which is option #2, comes in. So, when the body’s production is limited, you need to supplement vitamin D.
And that is how the two options often complement each other:
In the summer months, you get your vitamin D from the sun, and during the winter months, you take a supplement.
*Please be careful not to burn your skin because that can increase your risk of skin cancer.
Now, let’s talk about option #2 in more detail.
All about supplementing Vitamin D:
When you cannot meet your vitamin D needs through the body’s production, you need to supplement 20 mcg or 800 IU vitamin D.
The most popular supplements are drops and sprays, but tablets and capsules are also common.
Most supplements are taken once a day. For example, you take one drop or one tablet of the vitamin D supplement every day.
However, since vitamin D is stored in the body for a while, some supplements contain a larger dose. Then, you may only have to take a supplement once a week.
There are also some supplements with very high doses. These supplements are called depots, and you only need to take them once every few weeks.
How often you need to take your supplement and how much of it you need to take depends on the kind and brand you are using.
For that reason, you should carefully follow the instructions on the label and consult your physician if you have any questions.
Also, when you take your supplement, try to take it with a fatty meal or along with some nuts because that helps your body absorb the vitamin.
Moreover, when you purchase a vitamin D supplement, check if it is vegan because many vitamin D supplements are sourced from animals.
Should you take supplement that has Vitamin D + Vitamin K?
Some vitamin D supplements come in combination with vitamin K.
That is because taking too much of your vitamin D supplement can lead to calcium deposits in your arteries, which can promote atherosclerosis.
To prevent that from happening, vitamin K is added. However, as long as you take your supplement as directed, this shouldn’t be a concern.
Another reason why Vitamin K is added is because supplementing vitamin D can increase your vitamin K need.
However, vegans usually get plenty of vitamin K. For that reason, it is not necessary that the vitamin D supplement also has vitamin K in it.
So whether you take a supplement that has only vitamin D in it or you take a supplement that has both vitamin D and vitamin K is mostly a matter of preference.
But as always, it’s a good idea to discuss your individual circumstances with your physician.
What happens if you take too much vitamin D?
When the body produces vitamin D itself, it only makes how much it needs and not more. It will also not absorb more than it needs from fortified foods.
Therefore, you can only get too much vitamin D by taking your supplement incorrectly.
For that reason, you want to be very careful when you take your supplement.
Yes, you want to take enough to meet your need. But you also don’t want to overdo it because that can have negative consequences as well.
For example, if you take in more than 100 µg/day, it increases calcium absorption and causes more calcium to be released from the bones.
As a result, a lot of calcium is floating around in the blood, which can deposit in the arteries, heart, lungs, and kidneys and promote atherosclerosis and kidney stones.
Early signs that you took in too much vitamin D can be:
- – Constipation
- – Weakness
- – Vomiting
- – Increased thirst
- – Nausea
- – Loss of appetite.
How to test for a vitamin D deficiency?
As long as you
- 1) spend plenty of time outside in the summer months and take a supplement in the winter months, or
- 2) supplement year-round because you don’t get to be outside a lot
you should have no problem meeting your vitamin D need as a vegan.
But it’s always good to double-check because a deficiency can have various negative consequences (see above).
You can check your vitamin D levels by getting a blood test done once or twice a year.
When you schedule your appointment, be sure to ask that 25-Cholecalciferol (also known as 25-(OH)-D3 (Calcidiol) ) is measured because it is the most reliable value.
It is more common to measure the active vitamin D3 in the blood plasma, but this value is not ideal because the body strictly regulates it.
For that reason, the amount in your plasma stays relatively consistent, even if your vitamin D level is low. As a result, your deficiency may stay undetected longer, which can negatively impact your health.
Common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency
In addition to spending plenty of time outside, supplementing vitamin D, and getting regular blood tests done, it is good to be aware of some of the most common deficiency symptoms.
So, in case you experience any of them, you can seek medical advice.
Some of the most common deficiency symptoms are:
Weakened immune system
- – Fatigue
- – Muscle pain
- – Hair loss
- – Depression
- – Slowed wound healing
- – And Bone density loss.
Alright, you just learned everything you need to know about vitamin D as a vegan.
I know we covered a lot of information, which is why I created this free guide, with all of the most important nutrients for vegans, including vitamin D, and how to meet the need reliably.
It has everything you need to know and learned in this article nicely summed up, so you can quickly reference that anytime.
Also, if you have any further questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below, and I’ll be sure to get back to you.
Thank you so much for spending time with me, and I wish you a wonderful day. 😃