Vitamin D

Why do you need it?

You need vitamin D for healthy bones as it helps your body absorb calcium – around 99 per cent of your body’s calcium is stored in your bones. Vitamin D also helps regulate calcium and phosphate levels in your body which is important because these minerals keep your bones, teeth and muscles healthy. It also helps support your immune system.

It’s known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because we make vitamin D in our skin in response to exposure to sunlight containing ultraviolet B rays (UVB radiation). Although Uganda receives plenty of sunshine throughout the year, cultural practices (eg wearing clothing that covers most of the body) can limit sun exposure. Furthermore, the darker your skin, the more sunlight exposure you need to make sufficient vitamin D. If you don’t get enough exposure to sunshine, you can still get some vitamin D from your diet, but a supplement may be required as it is in countries with limited sunshine during the winter months.


Vitamin D insufficiency (low levels) is common in Ugandan children and those with severe malaria have even lower levels. Symptoms of deficiency include muscle weakness, bone tenderness or pain in the spine, shoulder, ribs or pelvis. Vitamin D deficiency in children can lead to rickets – skeletal deformities, anaemia and susceptibility to respiratory infections.

To find out about the different types of vitamin D see below.

There are two types of vitamin D, both can be used by the body. Click here to read more
  • Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is always vegan and some vegan foods are fortified with vitamin D2 – check the label.
  • Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) can be of animal origin. Most of the vitamin D3 used in supplements and fortified foods is from lanolin in sheep’s wool so is not suitable for vegans. However, some D3 is now produced from mushrooms and lichen which is suitable for vegans.

If you decide to take a supplement, there are quality and affordable vegan ones made with vitamin D2, or D3 from mushrooms or algae (this is recommended if you need a higher dose).

How much do you need?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends five micrograms (μg) of vitamin D a day for adults aged 19 to 50, 10 micrograms for adults aged 51 to 65 and 15 micrograms for adults over 65 years. The recommended intakes for infants, children, adolescents and pregnant and lactating women are given below.

Recommended nutrient intakes for vitamin D. Click to read more…
Age groupRecommended nutrient intake
Infants and children
0-6 months5
7-12 months5
1-3 years5
4-6 years5
7-9 years5
Pregnant woman5
Lactating women5
5 μg = 200 IU, 10 μg = 400 IU and 15 μg = 600 IU.
Source: WHO, FAO. 2004. Vitamin and mineral requirements in human nutrition. 2nd ed. Geneva: WHO.

Where to find vitamin D

  • Sunshine: The best and easiest way to get your vitamin D is to expose your skin to sunshine regularly. For people with darker skin, daily sunlight exposure for 25 to 40 minutes may be required and for lighter skin types – 10 to 15 minutes should provide sufficient vitamin D while minimising the risks of sunburn and skin cancer. 
  • Mushrooms: Some mushrooms produce vitamin D when exposed to UV light. A 100-gram serving of this type of mushroom (approx 14 button mushrooms, 4-5 chestnut mushrooms or 1-2 Portobello mushrooms) can provide 100 per cent of your daily needs. Check the packaging to ensure they are called ‘vitamin D’ mushrooms. 
  • Fortified foods: Some plant-based foods such as margarines, plant-based milk (such as soya, almond or oat), breakfast cereals and orange juice may be fortified with vitamin D. Check the labels to ensure the product is fortified with vitamin D.
  • Algae-derived supplements: There are quality and affordable vegan supplements made with vitamin D2, or D3 from mushrooms or algae (this is recommended if you need a higher dose).