Healthy Sources of Vitamin D

MD Anderson Experts Recommend Getting Vitamin D from Sources Other than Sunlight

MD Anderson News Release 05/11/11

The recent increase in recommended vitamin D intake from the Food and Nutrition Board may prompt some to seek more summer sun. But, experts at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center say there’s no safe amount of time people can stay in the sun without increasing skin cancer risks.

People tend to think of sunshine when they think of vitamin D — and for good reason. When UV rays come in contact with the skin, it triggers the creation of vitamin D.

“Some people may absorb enough vitamin D from their routine outdoor exposure,” says Susan Y. Chon, M.D., assistant professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Dermatology. “However, the benefits of UV exposure may be limited because they can lead to increased risks of developing skin cancer.”

On a hot summer day, unprotected skin can be damaged in as little as 15 minutes.

Add vitamin D to your diet

So, why is vitamin D so important? It’s the main building block for maintaining bone health. Without it, you can develop thin and brittle bones. Vitamin D also boosts the immune system to help fight off germs, bacteria and diseases, including certain cancers.

To avoid skin cancer, Chon recommends getting the daily fill of vitamin D from foods and, if necessary, supplements.

A handful of foods provide a large serving of this vitamin, including:

  • Cod liver oil: According to the National Institutes of Health, this fish extract provides the largest amount of vitamin D — just one tablespoon offers 1,360 IUs (International Units).
  • Fish: One serving (about three ounces) of certain types of fish also can give you a healthy dose of vitamin D. This includes:
    • Salmon: Provides 447 IUs per serving
    • Mackerel: Provides 388 IUs per serving
    • Tuna: Provides 154 IUs per serving
  • Milk: Milk really does a body good. Just one cup of whole, reduced fat or non-fat milk is fortified with vitamin D and provides 115 – 124 IUs.
  • Fortified cereals: Ready-to-eat cereals, fortified with 10 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin D, are an easy way sneak in extra nutrients. A three-quarter to one cup serving can provide at least 40 IUs.

Vitamin D needs aren’t one-size-fits-all
The amount of vitamin D the body needs depends mostly on age. Below are the daily recommended allowances from the Food and Nutrition Board. 

  • Birth to 12 months: 400 IUs
  • Age  1 to 70: 600 IUs
  • Age 70 and older: 800 IUs

Most people can get their daily fill of vitamin D by drinking a cup of milk and eating a three-ounce serving of salmon.

“There’s no doubt that vitamin D is vital when it comes to healthy bones and preventing diseases like cancer,” Chon says. “But, there’s no need to sacrifice sun safety (like skipping sunscreen or spending countless hours soaking in the rays) to get your fill.”

For more vitamin D and sun safety information, visit