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Americans have an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency, especially among women. An estimated 3 million people in the U.S. are deficient in vitamin D. Some of that difference can be attributed to people spending less time outside as exposure to UV light helps with vitamin D production. Increasingly processed diets also contribute to this deficiency. Unfortunately for vegetarians and vegans, the majority of sources of quality vitamin D are animal-based, so it’s important to add non-meat vitamin D sources of food to your diet.
Mushrooms are one of the most versatile plant-based sources of vitamin D. The amount of the vitamin in mushrooms varies widely based on the type and how they were grown. There also is some evidence that leaving mushrooms outside or under a UV light with the gills up can increase the vitamin level.
The best part of mushrooms is that they can be used in such a range of dishes that it is easy to incorporate them into a daily diet. Sliced mushrooms can be put on salads or sandwiches. They can be halved and put into stews and roasts with other vegetables. Stuffed portobello make for a filling dinner. Buy mushrooms in bulk to keep the cost reasonable.
Cheese and Eggs
Vegetarians have a few other options available to them. Cheese has a small amount of vitamin D in it, so feel free to add it to main dishes and sandwiches or even have it for a snack. Eggs also have a small amount of vitamin D. While the amount is not significant, it should be considered as eggs are a solid protein source for vegetarians. Make a batch of hard-boiled eggs each Sunday and keep them on hand for eating throughout the week.
Whether you are vegetarian or vegan, milks provide a source of vitamin D. For cow’s milk, drinking and cooking with whole milk can add to your daily vitamin D intake. While plant-based milk, such as soymilk and almond milk, typically are fortified with vitamin D rather than having it occur naturally, is a good simple way to add some vitamin D by drinking something that likely is already part of your diet routine. Similarly, yogurt can be a great go-to as a snack or even with fortified cereals to amp up the plant-based vitamin D in your diet.
Very few cereals have vitamin D naturally, but there are plenty that are fortified with numerous vitamins and minerals. Look for whole-grain cereals that are fortified because those cereals also will have fiber, which is another nutritional deficiency many people have. Two of the most popular D-fortified cereals are multi-grain Cheerios and Special K. Many cereals in the Kashi line also have D. Eating cereal with fruit for breakfast can be a great way to start the day with a healthy, enjoyable meal.
Regardless of what food choices you make, there are some people who will not be able to get enough vitamin D, especially from only plant-based sources. Supplements are an excellent way to get enough vitamin D although not all brands available are vegan or vegetarian friendly. Garden of Life is one of the best available brands. It comes in both chewable tablet form and as a spray. Garden of Life D supplements are both vegan and gluten-free, and they are inexpensive. If you find that you are suffering from extreme fatigue, hair loss, or hot flashes—all signs of a deficiency—even though you are eating D-rich foods, one of these supplements may be the answer.