Vitamin D and Your Bones

Vitamin D: It Matters

Vitamin D is important throughout life to help your body use calcium to build and maintain strong bones. It may also increase muscle strength to help prevent falls and broken bones in older adults.

Recommended Daily Vitamin D Intakes

Age Vitamin D in IU
(International Units)
Birth to 12 months 400
1 to 70 years old 600
71 years and older 800

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 400 IU of vitamin D each day for infants from birth to 12 months of age. Vitamin D is found in formula or given as prescription drops (necessary for all breast-fed infants). The Institute of Medicine recommends 600 IU of vitamin D for most healthy people from age 1 to 70 years old and 800 IU for healthy people age 71 years and older. Your healthcare provider may recommend more vitamin D than the above amounts.

Three ways to get Vitamin D

There are 3 ways to get vitamin D: from sunlight, food, and supplements.

Picture of sun accessories

Vitamin D and the Sun

The body makes Vitamin D when skin is exposed to the ultraviolet light (UVB rays) from the sun. During the winter months in New York, the UVB rays are not adequate to make enough vitamin D. In addition, as we age, our bodies are less able to make vitamin D from sun exposure. The most important factor that blocks the body's ability to make vitamin D is the use of sunscreen to protect skin from sun damage. For all of these reasons, especially the importance of protecting your skin, it is recommended that people use sunscreen and get vitamin D from foods and/or supplements.

Nutrition Information about Vitamin D

There is limited but growing information available about the vitamin D content of foods. The USDA National Nutrient Database (www.nal.usda.gov) and food labels are the best resources for more information.

Reading Food Labels to Find Vitamin D Content
(IU Vitamin D per serving)

  1. Find the Vitamin D % (listed as % Daily Value per serving)
    (Note: Currently the 100% Daily Value for Vitamin D = 400 IU)
  2. Drop the %
  3. Multiply x 4
Non Fat Milk Nutrition Facts label showing 25% RDA of Vitamin D in 1 cup serving
Example: To find the IU of Vitamin D per serving of milk
  1. The label lists Vitamin D 25% in an 8 ounce cup
  2. Drop the % = 25
  3. 25 x 4 = 100 IU per 8 ounce cup
Picture of vitamin bottles for multi-vitamins, Vitamin D and Calcium

Supplemental Sources

It is very difficult for many individuals to get enough vitamin D from food. All breastfed infants and infants taking less than 1 quart of formula/day, many children and adults need to take vitamin D as a supplement. Vitamin D comes in two sources, Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 is also called ergocalciferol, and comes from vegetarian sources. Vitamin D3 is also called cholecalciferol, and comes from animal sources. Vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 can both protect your bones.

Supplements Containing Vitamin D

  • Multivitamins
  • Calcium with vitamin D
  • Vitamin D alone (Do not select vitamin D in combination with retinol sources of vitamin A*)

Vitamin D is available in various doses over the counter without a prescription or as a prescription. Speak to your healthcare provider to find out how much vitamin D you need and the best source for you.

Vitamin A: Get it from Colorful Fruits and Vegetables

  • Retinol (a form of vitamin A found in foods of animal origin and in some supplements) may have a negative effect on the skeleton. However, beta-carotene and other carotenoids (forms of vitamin A found in darkly colored red, orange and green fruits and vegetables, as well as in some suppleĀ­ments) appear to be safe for the skeleton.
  • It is wise to avoid foods high in retinol content including cod liver oil and liver, even though they are sources of vitamin D. You can easily get enough vitamin A by eating several daily servings of fruits and vegetables high in carotenoids such as carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, and spinach.

* By reading the labels of supplements, you can find out the content and source of vitamin A. It is recommended to avoid combination vitamin D and A supplements and to choose multivitamins that contain less than 80% of the Daily Value (DV) of vitamin A from retinol sources. Retinol sources may be listed on the supplement label as provitamin A, retinyl palmitate, vitamin A palmitate, retinyl acetate, and vitamin A acetate.

Vitamin D Sources from Foods

Vitamin D is found in foods in the natural state as well as in some fortified foods. The natural sources tend to be high in fat and eaten only occasionally by most people.

Natural Sources of Vitamin D IU per serving
Eel 792 3 ounces
Trout 645 3 ounces Picture of food that are Vitamin D sources such as fish and meat
Salmon (smoked chinook) 583 3 ounces
Salmon (pink, canned) 465 3 ounces
Salmon, sockeye 447 3 ounces
Catfish (wild) 425 3 ounces
Mackerel (Atlantic) 388 3 ounces
Salmon (wild) 307 3 ounces
Tuna (light, canned in oil) 229 3 ounces
Sardines (Atlantic, canned in oil) 164 3 ounces
Rockfish 156 3 ounces
Tuna (light, canned in water) 154 3 ounces
Halibut 196 3 ounces
Flounder or sole 118 3 ounces
Herring (pickled) 96 3 ounces
Tuna (white, canned in water) 68 3 ounces
Tuna, yellowfin 70 3 ounces
Shitake mushrooms 41 1 cup
Egg 41 1 large egg
(including yolk)
Cod liver oil contains 450 IU of vitamin D per teaspoon and liver contains 42 IU per slice but they are
not recommended sourcesof vitamin D (See Vitamin A: Get It From Colorful Fruits and Vegetables).

Fortified Sources of Vitamin D: IU per serving
Malted milk* 326 8 ounces
Oatmeal* 150 1 packet Picture of fortified with Vitamin D food sources such as milk, daily, milk- and cream-based foods
Milkshake 123 to 150 11 ounces
Eggnog 123 8 ounces
Milk 115 to 124 8 ounces
Milk (evaporated) 100 4 ounces
Milk (instant, dry) 100 1/3 cup
Rice drink* 100 8 ounces
Soy milk or almond milk* 100 8 ounces
Orange juice* 100 8 ounces
Infant formulas 100 8 ounces
Yogurt* 80 to 200 6 ounces
Tofu* 80 3 ounces
Creamed soup made with milk 62 1 cup
Cereal, fortified 50 to 100    as listed on label
Pudding, made with milk 49 to 60 ½ cup
Cheese* 40 1 slice or stick
Egg substitutes 50 ¼ cup
Margarine* 25 teaspoon
Fortified foods (foods with vitamin D added) supply most of the vitamin D in typical U.S. diets.
*Not all brands are fortified with vitamin D. Be sure to read food labels to select brands with vitamin D added.

Sources: www.nal.usda.gov and food manufacturers' information

©NYSOPEP, 2012