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You know that going outdoors and soaking up the sunshine can do wonders for your mood (just don’t forget the sunblock!)—but that bright orange ball of gas in the sky also plays a crucial role in your health, by providing your body with a daily dose of vitamin D. However, not everyone gets a sufficient amount of D from the sun and their diet, which is where vitamin D supplements can help.
“You may be familiar with vitamin D’s role in keeping bones strong and absorbing calcium, but it has a slew of other important functions and benefits, from supporting immunity and brain health to even regulating blood sugar levels,” says Stefani Sassos, RDN, the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Nutrition Lab deputy director. In fact, a brand-new study out of sun-soaked Australia found a connection between vitamin D deficiency and higher mortality risks.
The vitamin, which comes from both sun exposure and certain foods, not only protects against the loss of bone mass, “it also helps muscles function and allows the brain and body to communicate through nerves,” adds Jerlyn Jones, RDN, a spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of the Lifestyle Dietitian, who also notes that the immune system uses vitamin D to fight off bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19 (one large study in 2021 found that among patients who were critically ill from COVID, 82% had low levels of vitamin D). It can also decrease the risks of depression, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, points out Shanon Whittingham, RDN, founder of The Nourish Center.
Note: Taking vitamin D alone will not prevent or cure COVID, but building a strong immune system is considered one of the best ways to keep yourself as healthy as possible overall.
If you’re looking for a vitamin D supplement, here are the best options to try:
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Best Overall Vitamin D Supplement
Vitamin D3 1000 IU Tablets
Top-Rated Vitamin D Supplement on Amazon
Vitamin D3 2000 IU Supplement
Affordable Vitamin D Supplement
Thorne Vitamin D-1000
Best Vitamin D Supplement for Vegans
Here Comes the Sun
Best Liquid Vitamin D Supplement
Vitamin D-3 Liquid
Best Vitamin D Supplement for Vegetarians
Garden of Life
Vitamin Code Raw D3
Best Gummy Vitamin D Supplement
Vitamin D3 Gummy Vitamins
Best Fermented Vitamin D Supplement
Fermented Vitamin D3 Tablets
Best Vitamin D Supplement for Bone Health
Bone Restore with Vitamin K2
Best Chewable Vitamin D Supplement
Vitamin D-3 Chewables
Best Women’s Multi With D3
Essential for Women Multivitamin
Best Powder Vitamin D Supplement
Best Vitamin D Supplement for Children
Vitamin D3 Gummies
Best Vitamin D Supplement for Babies
Baby Vitamin D Drops
How we chose the best vitamin D supplements
Most of these supplements were selected by Stefani Sassos, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.O., C.D.N., the deputy director of the Nutrition Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute, based on her own evaluations and those by independent labs. Others were recommended by additional dietitians interviewed for this article or based on consumer reviews.
Are you getting enough vitamin D?
According to the National Institutes of Health, only about 5% of Americans have what is called a vitamin D deficiency — a serious medical condition that can lead to bone diseases such as rickets. But another 18% have “inadequate” amounts of vitamin D, which can contribute to other health issues. “I always advise my clients to see their doctor and get lab work done,” Whittingham says. “Your doctor will be able to tell you if your vitamin D levels are low, or trending low, and if you need to supplement.” You should also consider getting tested if you’re experiencing symptoms such as fatigue, muscle weaknesses, aches, cramps or bone pain, says Jones.
In addition, the following groups may be at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency:
What is the best form of vitamin D to take?
Vitamin D comes in many different forms — pills, gummies, liquids, powders, even strips that melt on your tongue. Whittingham points out that liquid vitamins tend to be absorbed faster than those in pill form, but you should choose whichever format goes down easiest for you. “It all depends on what you can tolerate,” she says. “Some of my clients have a hard time tolerating pills, so I will recommend a gummy or liquid alternative.”
What should you look for in a supplement?
If your blood tests indicate that you need to boost your D, talk to your doctor about the best amount to take in a supplement, and check how much D is in any multis you already take, says Sassos, so you don’t inadvertently take too much (the RDI for men and women up to age 70 is 15mcg, or 600 IU; the upper limit is 100 mcg, or 4,000 IU).
“Don’t assume that more is better,” Whittingham adds. “It can actually be harmful to take too many supplements or those with a very high concentration of a nutrient.”
“When choosing a supplement, look for a third-party verification on the container’s label to determine if it has been tested by an independent organization such as ConsumerLab.com, NSF International and US Pharmacopeial Convention,” recommends Jones.
What’s the difference between vitamin D2 and D3?
Vitamin D comes in two chemical forms, D2 and D3. Most supplements are made with D3, which is traditionally manufactured from lanolin, a waxy substance that comes from sheep’s wool. For vegans, there is also a plant-based version of D3 made from lichen. “Vitamin D3 cholecalciferol is the most absorbable and potent form,” says Whittingham. “Vitamin D2, also known as ergocalciferol, is typically plant-based and not as effective at raising vitamin D levels in the body,” she adds.
How can you get vitamin D naturally?
The body gets vitamin D two different ways: “The most well-known way to get your dose of D is exposing your skin to sunlight,” Sassos explains, adding that about 15 to 20 minutes a few times a week can usually do the trick. Eating food rich in vitamin Dis another way to get your daily dose, but very few foods naturally have the vitamin, says Jones. “The best sources are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, sardines and 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil. Beef liver, Swiss cheese and egg yolks also contain small amounts,” she explains.
Of course, if you eat a plant-based diet, or just don’t like fish, it gets trickier. “Mushrooms are one of the few vegan sources of vitamin D and also the only vegetable source of the nutrient—if you eat a half cup a day of sliced white mushrooms, you’ll get about half your daily value,” Sassos explains.
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