The Best Vegan D3 and Why Vitamin D is so Important
What is responsible for calcium absorption, a healthy immune system including cancer prevention, and possibly combats weight gain and depression? Vitamin D.
It's been quite the hot topic in the last year or two with new findings on how much we should be getting and how we should be getting it.
Those who are for a more natural way of life tend to tote sun exposure as the best way.
They go as far as to say that instead of the sun giving you skin cancer, if you don't get any at all or too little, or wear sunscreen (due to toxic ingredients and blocking the sun's rays) that you are far more prone to skin cancer as well as other cancers too.
Others have said that sun exposure should be avoided as much as possible and you should be getting vitamin D from your diet and supplements. So what should you actually be doing so that you can remain healthy and strong?
A little of both is best if possible. The fact is that us vegans don't have many dietary sources of vitamin D unless our food is fortified with it or we get the right type of mushrooms, more on this later.
In winter we are all at a disadvantage when it comes to sun exposure, and even during the summer, where you stay might not get the right sun exposure. Vitamin D supplements, D3 in particular, are necessary.
We'll explain all of this shortly, but first, here is a list of the best vegan D3 supplements.
- Best Vegan Vitamin D3 Supplements
- Choosing a Vitamin D Supplement
- Our Top Picks for the Best Vegan Vitamin D
Best Vegan Vitamin D3 Supplements
1. Real Dose Essentials Vegan Vitamin D3
Our Verdict: Best Low Dose Vitamin D3
This D3 supplement by Real Dose Essentials contains 1000 IU of vitamin D3 derived from lichen. It has very few ingredients, other than the D3 it only contains rice flour and hypromellose. It's a great option if you have a sensitive stomach as these are really easy on the digestive.
The capsules are small and easy to swallow. Though it's very rare, there are people whose tummies may not agree with this supplement.
- Vitamin D3 1,000 IU (As Vitashine vegan cholecaliferol)
- Non-GMO, gluten, nut, wheat, and soy-free
- Tested for purity
- Easy to swallow
- 60 servings of 1000 IU
- In very rare cases, it can cause stomach upset or gas
2. Mary Ruth's Vegan Plant-Based Vitamin D3 + K2
Our Verdict: Best for Bariatric Surgery Patients
Mary Ruth's makes many quality supplements for vegan. This D3 (from lichen) spray has the added bonus of vitamin K2 which is necessary to make sure that calcium goes into your bones and teeth and not soft tissue like muscles, arteries, and organs.
Usually, it's found in animal products since it's made by bacteria in the gut, but this vitamin K2 is sourced from natto (fermented soy). None of the soy is left, however, making this supplement soy-free.
If you don't like pills, the fact that this is a spray is great. It also has a dropper. It tastes very mild and almost like olive oil which isn't great but not too bad. It's also a bit oily as it contains olive oil and coconut oil which may put some people off.
- Vitamin D3 (as Lichen)
- Vitamin K2 (MK-7)
- Organic Medium Chain Triglycerides (from coconut oil)
- Organic Olive Oil
- 1000 IU of D3 and 100 mcg of K2 (MK-7 form)
- Free from binders and fillers
- Non-GMO and free from gluten, wheat, corn, and soy
- Safe for those who have celiac's or have undergone bariatric surgery
- Liquid, it can be sprayed or added to water or juice
- Can be a bit pricey (only 30 servings)
- Doesn't taste very nice but the flavor is mild
- Has an oily consistency
3. MRM Vegan Vitamin D3
Our Verdict: Best High Dose D3 Supplement
MRM Vegan Vitamin D3 provides 5000 IU of D3 derived from lichen. If you need a higher dose due to a deficiency, this is a good option. The capsules are small and easy to swallow. It's non-GMO and free from many common allergens.
The dose may be a bit high for a lot of people, but taking it every other day or twice a week or so can help with this.
It's also full of binders and fillers and unfortunately may not be suitable for diabetics due to the added sucrose (sugar) and maltodextrin which can spike blood sugar levels.
- Vegan Vitamin D3 (As cholecaliferol)
- 5000 IU is good for those with a deficiency
- Free from animal products and nuts, soy, wheat, gluten, and yeast
- 60 servings
- Contains sugar and maltodextrin, not suitable for diabetics
- Contains fillers
4. Do Vitamins DailyD Vegan Vitamin D3
Our Verdict: Best Budget Buy
This little bottle provides you with your vitamin D supply for an entire year. Just one drop is 2500 IU of vitamin D and there is a serving for every day. It's certified clean and non-GMO. The only other ingredients are coconut and sunflower oil.
It doesn't taste like much and every time you buy a bottle, they donate one to children in need as they are part of the Vitamin Angels initiative.
The one downside with this supplement is that the dropper doesn't work so well. It's hard to get just one drop, especially when the bottle is full. So don't squeeze the dropper too hard and keep it away from your children.
Tip: Storing it in the fridge can make it a little thicker making it easier to control how much comes out of the dropper.
- Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol)
- Medium chain triglycerides (from coconut oil)
- D-alpha tocopherol (from sunflower)
- Non-GMO and free from animal products as well as gluten, wheat, sugar, and soy
- Third-party tested by LabDoor
- Manufactured according to GMP (Good Manufacturing Process) guidelines
- Small glass bottle, easy to travel with
- 365 servings (one drop provides 2500 IU)
- Controlling the number of drops that come out of the dropper is difficult
5. Doctor's Best Vegan D3
Our Verdict: Best Budget Buy Capsules at a Higher Dose
Doctor's Best formulates all their supplements based on scientific research. Their vitamin D3 supplement gives you 2500 IU of vitamin D3 and is GMP certified and third-party lab tested. The capsules are small and easy to swallow.
The newer formulations are free from gluten and soy.
These do have some downsides as they contain both maltodextrin and sucrose (sugar) making them unsuitable for diabetics. They also contain other additives like silicon dioxide.
- Vitashine Vitamin D3 (as cholecalciferol) 2500 IU
- Microcrystalline cellulose
- Modified cellulose (vegetarian capsule)
- Silicon dioxide
- D-alpha tocopherol
- Ascorbyl palmitate
- Non-GMO and free from gluten and soy
- GMP certified
- Third-party lab tested
- Easy to swallow
- 60 servings
- Contains sugar and maltodextrin (not suitable for diabetics)
- Contains a few additives
Choosing a Vitamin D Supplement
Aside from looking out for the usual additives like gelatin, lactose, sugar, colorants and magnesium stearate (not all forms of magnesium stearate are plant-based), there is one other big thing to look out for:
The form of vitamin D.
Vitamin D2 vs Vitamin D3
Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) are not equal and many of the vitamin D supplements on the shelves are vitamin D2. Mushrooms grown in sunlight contain quite a good amount of vitamin D2.
But no vitamin D3.
Unfortunately, the two forms of vitamin D are not equal, just like the omega-3 fatty acids ALA, DHA, and EPA are different as explained here: https://www.healthlisted.com/best-vegan-omega-3-supplements/.
Here is where they differ:
Vitamin D3 is the more bioavailable option. This means that your body is able to absorb it and use it well.
In fact, this is the form of vitamin D that our bodies make when our skin comes into contact with the sun. Vitamin D2 doesn't do too badly, but D3 is more potent and is stored better in the body, particularly in men.
Vitamin D3 is present in most meat, fish, and dairy products to varying degrees, whereas there are not many plant sources. A lot of the vitamin D3 supplements on the shelves derive the vitamin D from lanolin which is an oil on sheep's wool.
Vegan vitamin D3 is derived from lichen. Lichen is a complex mix of algae and a fungus and we wouldn't advise eating it straight off the tree or rock you see it sprouting on. Only certain forms of lichen are okay to use as "food". Rather get a D3 supplement, it's safer and way less gross.
What is Vitashine?
Vitashine is vitamin D3 derived from lichen. It's certified as vegan by the vegan society and vegetarian society. It's a simple way of identifying the type of vitamin D3.
Not all supplements will list lichen-derived D3 under this name though, so be sure to check that the supplement is vegan-friendly before purchasing to be sure that it does, in fact, come from lichen.
Vitamin D Dosage
The new guidelines for adults are:
- Adults (19-75): 800-2000 IU
- Elderly (75+): 2000-4000 IU
How much you specifically need depends on your weight, height, and age. Chat to your doctor to get the right dose. Vegan children and all babies can benefit from a vitamin D supplement too. Chat to your pediatrician to get the correct dose for your kids.
Can You Overdose on Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin meaning that it requires fat to be absorbed and used by the body. Fat-soluble vitamins don't get excreted as easily or as regularly as water-soluble vitamins. They get stored up in the body and this can cause a buildup if you are taking excessive doses.
For vitamin D, taking 60 000 IU for a few months will cause vitamin D toxicity. This is not easy to do, however.
The upper intake allowance is 4000 IU for adults of all ages and although there are a few supplements that may give you very high doses, they usually provide between 1000 IU and 4000 IU.
Some may even only provide the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) which is the amount you need to avoid a deficiency, not for optimal health. That amount is around 600 IU
You would really need to overdo it to get vitamin D toxicity. Too much vitamin D, even if it isn't at a toxic level, however, can cause kidney stones. This is why it's important to get the correct dose for you as an individual.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Toxicity
- Excessive sweating
- Frequent urination
- Feeling weak
Why a Vitamin D Supplement Instead of the Sun?
Depending on where you stay and if you have a light skin tone, you can likely get enough vitamin D at least during summer. There needs to be a UV index of 3.
In some parts of the world, a UV index of 3 is common, even in winter. But in North America, this isn't so. Many weather apps will give you the UV index for your town so that you can plan accordingly.
If you have a darker skin tone, you may need to take a supplement all year long. This is because melanin blocks the rays of the sun so it can't cause the reaction in your skin to make vitamin D.
It's not to say that you can't get vitamin D from the sun but you may need more exposure than you can fit into your day or than is healthy for your skin.
Lighter skin tones can make up to 25 000 UI (don't worry, you can't overdose this way, the body is smart), within 15-30 minutes. But darker skin tones can take an hour or more. If you work indoors all day, this is tough to do and you risk getting sunburned.
If you are very overweight or obese, you may also be deficient as obesity has been linked to lower levels of vitamin D in the body.
You may need to spend a longer period of time in the sun as well to get the same vitamin D results even if you have a lighter skin tone.
Remember to stay safe in the sun. Sunblock does prevent the formation of vitamin D to a large extent, but if you are going to be in the sun longer than 15-30 minutes, put sunscreen on or at least cover up.
Bear in mind that sunscreen takes about 30 minutes to start working. You also only need to be in the sun 2-3 days a week, not every day.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
Developing a vitamin D deficiency takes a while but the old saying: "prevention is better than the cure", is definitely the best way to go.
But deficiencies do happen, so here are a few signs to look out for if you eat no fortified foods and spend very little time in the sun:
- Bone pain
- Muscle weakness
- Blood pressure problems
- Weak bones
- Feeling exhausted all the time
- Infertility for which there isn't an identifiable cause
- Reduced endurance
Because your body won't be able to absorb calcium properly without vitamin D, you may have a calcium deficiency too which is why your bones and heart health will be affected.
It's good and well to get your vitamin D intake sorted, but you also need to make sure that you get enough calcium too.
Make sure that you include these foods in your diet regularly:
- Dark leafy greens (eat these every day)
- Nuts (especially almonds)
- Blackstrap Molasses
- Fortified tofu
- Fortified plant milk
In addition to these foods, some of which also contain vitamin K1 (leafy greens) and magnesium which are also important for calcium absorption, be sure to add these foods to your diet too to ensure that you get enough magnesium:
- Potatoes with the skin on
- Nuts (especially cashews and peanuts)
All these nutrients work together synergistically to ensure the health of your bones, cardiovascular system, muscles, and to boost your immune system and mental health.
There is no reason to be deficient in vitamin D. Supplements are one of the safest ways to get this vital nutrient and because so many more companies are making supplements suitable for vegans and those with allergies (some people are allergic to wool), it's easier than ever to find a suitable supplement.
Our Top Picks for the Best Vegan Vitamin D
Tried one of these brands? Let us know.