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How to Get Vitamin D without Milk

In the United States, fluid cow’s milk is routinely fortified with vitamin D. Orange juice, margarine, and breakfast cereals also may be fortified. Other dairy products, including ice cream, yogurt, cheeses, and sour cream, however, aren’t typically fortified. In Canada, milk and margarine are required to be fortified with vitamin D.

Vitamin D fortification of foods is carefully regulated, because too much vitamin D can potentially be a problem. Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and is stored in the body, excessively high intakes may be toxic.

The good news: You can go dairy-free and still get vitamin D with fortified nondairy products. With the rise in popularity of nondairy beverages such as soymilk and rice milk, brands that are fortified with calcium also are fortified with vitamin D to make them similar in nutrition to cow’s milk.

Finding alternative sources of vitamin D isn’t easy. Very few foods are natural sources. Those that are include eggs and fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon, and sardines. So, other than making your own vitamin D from sunshine exposure or possibly getting some from the few food sources that naturally exist, your best bet for getting a dietary source of vitamin D is to eat fortified foods. Taking a vitamin D supplement also is an option.

Liver is a source of vitamin D, too, but it’s not a good idea to eat it. An animal’s liver is where environmental contaminants are deposited. You need vitamin D, but you sure don’t need a big dose of contaminants along with it.

Recommendations for vitamin D intake have gotten a lot of scrutiny by scientists lately. Current recommendations are for adults up to 50 years old to get 200 international units (IU) each day. People ages 51 to 70 should get double that amount, and people age 70 and older need 600 IU each day.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics doubled the amount of vitamin D it recommends for children from 200 IU to 400 IU per day. The reason for the increase is growing scientific evidence that adequate vitamin D not only protects bones but may decrease the risk of other diseases, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes.

If you know your exposure to sunlight is limited and you aren’t confident that you’re getting enough vitamin D from fortified foods, check in with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for individualized advice. Your physician may advise a blood test to determine whether your vitamin D level is adequate. You may need a supplement.

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