How to Get Vitamin D in Winter

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On this, the darkest day of the year, I thought it would be fitting to share the best ways to get the sunshine vitamin – vitamin D – in winter when there’s not much sun to be had. Even as I sit mid-day in Southern California, the sun is low and weak, not a great generator for vitamin D in winter.  So in order to stay healthy through cold and flu season my family and I make sure to supplement with non-solar sources.

Until recently, vitamin D has been an under-appreciated nutrient, but in the last several years, research as well as empirical evidence has been showing that vitamin D is essential for immune health, hormone function, healthy bones and teeth, and even cancer prevention.  And while it is believed that the human body synthesizes vitamin D best through regular sun exposure, even with your best efforts it is difficult to get enough D-generating sunshine during the winter months in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere.

You can read more about vitamin D, it’s health benefits, and sunshine here. Aside from moving to the tropics, here’s…

5 ways to get your daily dose of vitamin D in winter…

Fermented Cod Liver Oil (FCLO)

Unlike regular fish oil, cod liver oil is naturally rich in vitamin D, and when you choose fermented cod liver oil you get the benefit of a cultured food which makes its nutrients much more bio-available (easier for your body to absorb and use). Consequently, the daily dosage is much lower than if you were supplementing with synthetic vitamin D.

According to the Weston Price Foundation:
The high-vitamin fermented cod liver oil is sold as a food so does not contain vitamin levels on the label. However, after numerous tests, the approximate values of A and D have been ascertained at 1900 IU vitamin A per mL and 390 IU vitamin D per ml. Thus 1 teaspoon of high-vitamin fermented cod liver oil contains 9500 IU vitamin A and 1950 IU vitamin D, a ratio of about 5:1.

The WAPF recommend the following dosages per day:
Adults –  1 teaspoon
Children –  1/2 teaspoon
Pregnant and nursing moms – 2 teaspoons

Note: Most commercial cod liver oil (including well-respected brands like Nordic Naturals and Carlson) have been over-processed and have synthetic vitamins D and A added in the improper proportions. In light of this, my family takes Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil. Unfortunately, this supplement is not currently available in health food stores, but you can buy it online and find it on my resource guide.

Lard from healthy foraging pigs

This may come as a surprise: After cod liver oil, lard is the second best source of vitamin D.  The key is getting lard from pigs that haven’t been factory raised, have spent time outdoors in sunshine, and have eaten a healthy diet. Good quality bacon and bacon grease is a great gateway into the wonderful world of lard. And when you’re ready to branch out, try this ahhh-maz-ing recipe for Carnitas.


6 oysters contain an estimated 270IU of vitamin D, but keep in mind that your body is able to utilize nutrients from food with far more ease than from supplements. And oysters are oh-so-good!

Fish Roe

You know those tiny orange things you get with sushi that have a salty flavor that bursts in your mouth?  Packed with D. One recent study showed a single tablespoon of roe to contain 17,000IU of vitamin D!

Vitamin D3 Supplement

While it is optimal for you and your family to get vitamin D through food based sources, in particular fermented cod liver oil, there are instances when my patients or I use a vitamin D3 supplement – such as a rare sensitivity to FCLO, a super picky child who can’t swallow capsules, or in the case of an oncoming cold or flu.

The Vitamin D Council and other experts recommend an average of 35IU per pound of body weight per day for those with normal levels and states of health. In the case that one is getting a cold or flu, it is suggested to take a super-high dosage for no more than 3 days.  This dose is 900IU per pound.  Remember, it is recommended to take this for a short period only.

*Be sure to check with your health practitioner before trying this or any other new health regimen. Choose a vitamin D3 that delivers 2000IU per drop for adults or 400IU per drop for infants and small children.

You can find vitamin D here. You can read more about adequate levels of vitamin D and supplementation here.

How NOT to Get Vitamin D?

  • Multi-vitamins – Most aren’t bio-available or even the right type of vitamin D, and none have adequate vitamin D.
  • Breakfast cereal – There are many reasons to skip the cereal, but when it comes to vitamin D, for the same reasons as multi-vitamins it’s a waste of time, money, and a dirty bowl.
  • Fortified milk (or orange juice)– The milk and juice industries have most Americans tricked into thinking their drinks have them covered.  They don’t.  See the same reasons above.
  • Cod liver oil that does not have vitamins A and D in the correct proportion – Spend the extra effort on sourcing fermented cod liver oil.
  • Tanning Beds – I have some conflicting opinions about this one, because I think that individuals with poor gut absorption or Seasonal Affective Disorder can benefit from making vitamin D in the winter months with tanning beds that have UVB rays. At the moment, however, I must suggest that you use caution: nature did not intend for humans to sit in an electrically charged box. I think the risks of x-ray and EMF (electro-magnetic fields) in tanning beds outweigh the benefits.

Wishing you a warm, bright, and healthy winter!

image credit: sapienssolutions


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  1. Peggy says

    For people who are wary of roe, I can heartily recommend salmon roe. It tastes just like salmon! YUM! We take fermented CLO and I encapsulate butter oil that I make at home from cows eating May through August grass. It’s a double whammy of bioavailability!

    The doctor was appalled when he measured my mother’s vitamin D level and found her critically low after a bout of breast cancer. Good thing I told her to get it checked! I only wish i’d known sooner.

  2. Kendahl @ Our Nourishing Roots says

    Great suggestions. I STILL have not had much luck finding pastured lard in my area. It always sounds so good to me, my body must be telling me something….

  3. VK says

    I have always wondered if you can get any vitamin D from sunlight if you are indoors next to a window. I figure that you could, since plants in greenhouses get adequate sunlight for photosynthesis that way. Just a thought.

    • says

      Hi VK – no, unfortuntely glass blocks ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation which is the type that stimulates vitamin D synthesis by the skin.

    • Diane says

      I am diabetic and my doctor regularly tests my “D” level. It is usually 1 but it has been as high as 7. The levels are supposed to be between 40-90 +/- I wondered about that too because I am drive a lot. Apparently shade blocks the necessary rays for Vita D.

  4. MaidMirawyn says

    I’ve been looking into vitamin D for a while, and it never occurred to me until this week that my mom and grandmother are almost certainly deficient. Both have compromised health; my grandmother can’t leave her room, except for special occasions. (And those take half the day to get her moving, and leave her very tired.) My mom does get out some, but not very much.

    Thanks for this; my mom has agreed to take D3 drops, and sneak them into my grandma’s drink. (She can be very difficult about medications . . . ) Hoping to get them a little stronger before flu season hits in earnest!

  5. Tamika Anderson says

    I just went to a naturopath Monday, she said I need to supplement vitamin d. We drew blood to see just how low I am. I hate supplementing, and I kind of wish I understood which vitamins are created decently. I dont want gmos, junk and all that nonsense. How do you pick a decent vitamin?

  6. sarah says

    something i think also very important to note (i just learned this last year) that above a certain latitude, even when exposed to direct sun, during a large portion of the cooler months there are little to no UVB rays in the sun’s ray s to create vitamin d. in those months it is essential to find other ways to get your D! thanks for posting! i ate a diet super rich in D foods for many months and retested after previous low number and still tested low. i am now trying to supplement with magnesium oil to see if that was the missing link!

  7. joey realson says

    you couldn’t be more wrong about tanning beds-there are no x-rays in tanning beds -its a common misconception but completely false -also the highest vit. d levels are found in outdoor workers and the 2nd highest, in indoor tanners-uv is uv is uv-all you’re getting in a tanning bed is uvr(uva+b)-it is the sbsolut best way to get a base tan to prevent burning in a controlled environment and to get uvb in winter months-moderation and burn avoidance is the key

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