It comes as a shock to many new vegans that the vitamin we know and love in fortified orange juice – the vitamin we can get from just sitting in the sun for 10-15 mintes – is not always vegan. Many (most) of the vitamin D3 found in supplements and fortified varieties actually came from animals. In particular (as you’re likely now wondering how in the world vitamin D is obtained from an animal), the most common sources of vitamin D are fish oils and lanolin, which is the oil on sheep’s wool.
While we humans are lucky enough to have bare skin that the sun can touch (and therefore deliver us ample vitamin D), many animals are covered with fur or hair. For them, the oils in their hair absorb the vitamin D, which is then made available to them either as they absorb the oil when it touchest their skin or when they groom themselves. Obviously when striving to avoid the use of any products that are derived from animals, vitamin D is one to watch out for.
Luckily, vitamin D3 doesn’t only come from animals. Another common source for this vitamin is lichen, a type of plant often found growing on trees, one type of which is pictured at the top of this page. For this reason, it is possible to find vitamin D3 supplements that are certified as being vegan.
The alternate form of vitamin D, known as D2, is completely vegan though. Due to this, supplements marked as vegan that contain vitamin D actually have the D2 version rather than the more common D3 variety. There is much controversy over whether vitamin D2 is as effective as D3, with some studies showing that it is and others showing that it’s not.
Be sure to always read the ingredient label (which is a vegan mantra anyway) to find out more about its vitamin D content. In general, if a product contains vitamin D3 and is not marked as “vegan”, it likely is not a plant-based version of the vitamin.
Only 10-15 minutes of mid-day sunlight per day on a good percentage of the body (uncovered by clothing) is sufficient to provide our recommended daily vitamin D intake level. Midday sun is considered as being between the house of 10am and 2pm. When the angle of the sun is closer to the horizon (the hours closer to dawn and dusk that are not considered “midday”), the UVB rays from the sun are so minimal that they are not sufficient for the body to produce vitamin D as effectively.
It’s important to note that vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that it absorbs best when partnered with fat. Put down the vegan donut, we don’t mean that packing on the pounds will help your skin absorb vitamin D. However, it can help to ensure that you are obtaining enough healthy fats in your diet. Fat is considered a “macro” one of the food ingredients, along with protein and carbs, that are essential to our life, and one of the reasons why is because many vitamins are fat-soluble. Once our skin produces vitamin D, it is transferred to our gut for absorption, so it can help to have some healthy fats ready and waiting for that vitamin D to absorb well. Two sources of healthy fats that are commonly recommended are olive oil and avocados, however there are many other sources – particularly nuts and seeds which are excellent additions to any vegan diet anyway.
- Source: ConsumerLab.com – Vitamin D3 Sources
- Source: Garden of Life – Hot Ingredient: The First Vegan Society Certified Vitamin D3
- Source: Medical News Today – What are the most healthful high-fat foods?