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Why Do We Need It?

Vitamin D is best known for its role in preserving bone health, but deficiencies have also been linked to muscle weakness, depression, multiple sclerosis, and an increased risk for certain types of cancer.

In fact, recent research suggests that vitamin D may even be more important than calcium for preserving bone health.

How Do We Get It?

Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin – and food good reason. The sun is, in fact, the best source of this essential nutrient.

But getting enough sun exposure for our bodies to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D can be a challenge for modern-day humans who spend the majority of their days indoors.

Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels is especially challenging during the fall and winter season, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, when the hours of daylight are shorter and the sun is lower in the sky.

Under ideal conditions, lighter-skinned people can maintain adequate vitamin D levels with 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure. However, elderly and darker-skinned individuals need more exposure, and sun blockers like clouds and sunscreen can interfere with vitamin D synthesis.

Vitamin D occurs naturally in very few foods, such as fatty fish and egg yolks;  but these animal-derived foods are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and even moderate consumption of fatty fish brings a significant risk of mercury poisoning.

Thus, aside from regular sun exposure, supplements are the most potent and reliable source of vitamin D for everyone – vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike.

D2 vs. D3

Ergocalciferol, or vitamin D2 is typically vegan, while cholecalciferol, or vitamin D3 is often (but not always) animal-derived. Ergocalciferol is derived from yeast, while cholecalciferol is most commonly derived from the lanolin in sheep’s wool. However, there are now a couple of vegan options produced from mushrooms and lichen (see below for product options).

Although D2 supplements have been shown to be as effective at raising blood levels of vitamin D as D3 supplements, D2 only stays in the body a few days. D3 supplements produce a more sustained benefit.


Although there are quite a few options for D2 supplements, the only vegan vitamin D3 supplements on the market at this time are Nature’s Plus Source of Life Garden and Vibrant Nutraceuticals.

Nature’s Plus Source of Life Garden capsules are vegan, gluten free, and certified organic. Each 2-capsule serving contains 5,000 IU of 100% vegan, mushroom-based cholecalciferol.

Vibrant Nutraceuticals comes in four strength and delivery options: a 200 IU spray, a 400 IU spray, a 1,000 IU soft gel, and a 5,000 IU soft gel. The spray is an excellent option for kids and adults who prefer not to swallow a capsule, while the main advantage of the soft gels is a higher single-serving dose. This vegan vitamin D supplement is derived from lichen.

Plant-based D2 brands include Deva, NOW FoodsNature’s Life, Pure Vegan, and Veglife.

In the past, experts recommended taking in about 600 IU of vitamin D for most adults. However, recent research suggests that 800 IU or more may be appropriate, and that higher levels are necessary to treat deficiency.

For more information, check out Meeting Vitamin D Needs on a Vegan Diet and Fat Soluble Vitamins: Do They Stand Between Vegans and Health?

Image Credit: ny156uk/Flickr