Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Foods high in vitamin D

4-minute read

Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium properly and keep your bones and muscles working properly. We get most of the vitamin D we need from sunlight, but small amounts are also found in foods that include fatty fish and fortified margarine and milk. 

Why is vitamin D important for your health?

Vitamin D is important for your general health and especially for your bones. It is needed to make your muscles move, for your nerves to work properly, and for your immune system. Vitamin D is found in cells throughout your body. 

Vitamin D’s main purpose is to help your body absorb calcium from food. If you don’t have enough vitamin D, you may develop soft, thin, brittle bones. This is called rickets in children and osteopaenia in adults. 

Together, vitamin D and calcium protect older people from developing osteoporosis.

How much vitamin D do I need?

Most people get as much vitamin D as they need from sunlight. If you get enough sunlight, you probably don’t need to worry about extra vitamin D in your diet. 

However, some people don’t get enough — even in a sunny country like Australia. Those most at risk are older people, especially if they live in residential care and don’t get outdoors very often. 

Others who might not get enough vitamin D from sunlight are those with darker skin, who cover up for cultural or religious reasons, who wear protective clothing, and who avoid the sun — for example because they have had skin cancer. Obese people, babies of mothers who don’t have enough vitamin D, and people with certain medical conditions or on some medicines may also be at risk of low vitamin D.

The amount of vitamin D you need varies with your age: 

  • Everybody under the age of 50 needs 5 micrograms each day (µg/day). A microgram is one millionth of a gram.
  • People aged 51 to 70 need 10 µg/day.
  • People 71 and over need 15.0 µg /day.

What are the best sources of vitamin D?

The best source of vitamin D is sunlight. Just spending a few minutes outdoors on most days of the week should give you all the vitamin D you need. 

In Australia, it is safe to go outdoors in autumn and winter with some skin uncovered, as long as the UV index is below 3. Being active while you’re outside — for example by walking or gardening — will boost your vitamin D levels. 

When the UV index is higher than 3, usually in spring and summer, most people need to protect themselves from the sun to prevent skin cancer. During these months, and if you live in parts of Australia where the UV index is above 3 all year, it’s usually safe to go outside without sun protection in early morning and late afternoon. 

Very few foods contain much vitamin D. The best food sources of vitamin D are fatty fish like salmon, herring and mackerel, and eggs.  In Australia, vitamin D is added to margarine. Some milk, soy drinks, breads and cereals may also be fortified with vitamin D. 

Should I take vitamin D supplements?

Just under 1 in 4 Australians has a vitamin D deficiency. People most at risk are the elderly and people with certain medical conditions such as liver disease and kidney disease, and those with problems absorbing food, including cystic fibrosis, coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease. Some medicines can also contribute to vitamin D deficiency.

A blood test can confirm whether you have a vitamin D deficiency. Your doctor may then recommend you take a vitamin D supplement along with a calcium supplement.

If you need vitamin D supplements, you will probably also be advised to spend more time outdoors and increase the amount of calcium in your diet. If your vitamin D is low due to a chronic medical condition, you may need to take supplements for the rest of your life. 

Vitamin D supplements come in many different strengths and dosages. They can be low dose — which you take every day — or high dose, which you take monthly or less frequently. 

Too much vitamin D can also cause health problems including weight loss, heart rhythm problems or damage to your heart, blood vessels and kidneys. It’s not possible to get too much vitamin D from sunlight, but if you are taking vitamin D supplements it’s important to speak to your doctor or pharmacist to check you are taking the right dose.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2018

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Vitamin D | Cancer Council

What is vitamin D? How much sun do we need to maintain our vitamin D levels? Find information on vitamin D, including vitamin D deficiency here

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Vitamin D & vitamin D deficiency in kids | Raising Children Network

Vitamin D helps bones grow, develop and stay strong. Children get most of their vitamin D from sunlight as well as a small amount from some foods.

Read more on website

Vitamin D in pregnancy, infancy, childhood and adolescence

Building strong, healthy bones early in life is the best way to protect yourself from osteoporosis as you get older. Vitamin D has a crucial role in this process. This factsheet is about the importance of vitamin D in pregnancy and early life, the ways in which you can ensure that you, your baby or your child get enough vitamin D, and what to do if you think you or your child is at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Read more on Osteoporosis Australia website

Eggs - Better Health Channel

The humble egg is a powerhouse of nutritional goodness. Eggs are full of things your body needs. They are a great source of protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, folic acid and iron). In fact, eggs are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Vitamin and mineral (micronutrient) supplements

Here is what you need to know about the benefits for fertility and pregnancy health of folic acid, iodine, vitamin D, zinc, and selenium supplements.

Read more on Your Fertility website

Phosphate - Lab Tests Online AU

To evaluate the level of phosphate in your blood and to aid in the diagnosis of conditions known to cause abnormally high or low levels of phosphate.

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Rickets - Better Health Channel

Rickets is a preventable childhood bone disease caused by a lack of vitamin D.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Osteoporosis treatment options -

Osteoporosis treatment choices (including medicines and lifestyle measures) are based on your age, sex, general health, the severity of your osteoporosis and the likelihood of you breaking a bone. 

Read more on myDr website

What you need to know about Osteoporosis

1.2 million Australians are affected by osteoporosis, which means that their bones are fragile and at risk of fracture. A further 6.3 million people have low bone density (osteopenia), a possible precursor to osteoporosis. However, as many as 4 out of 5 people with osteoporosis don’t know that they have it and therefore don’t know that they are at risk of fracturing a bone. This is because osteoporosis is a ‘silent’ disease without obvious symptoms.

Read more on Osteoporosis Australia website

Breastfeeding diet, exercise & lifestyle | Raising Children Network

A healthy breastfeeding diet has a wide variety of foods from the five main food groups. Physical activity is also important for your health and wellbeing.

Read more on website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo