Kidney Diet Tips

Vitamin D: The “Sunshine” Vitamin

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient; we need to eat foods rich in vitamin D and spend time outdoors to maintain adequate levels in our body. So, the next time you eat a salmon burger outside in the sun, you’ll be getting vitamin D in two ways. Read on to learn why vitamin D is so important for the body and ways to get it.

Dietary Sources and Health Benefits

Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is found in fatty fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks, cheese and beef liver. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is found in mushrooms and yeast. More commonly, vitamin D keeps bones healthy. Vitamin D may also help improve diabetes, metabolic syndrome, malignancy, hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease and mental illness (1)(2). Vitamin D deficiency may lead to osteomalacia (a bone softening disorder) in adults.

Vitamin D Prescriptions

Vitamins D2 and D3 are absorbed in the small intestine and stored in fat tissue. Many people with end stage kidney disease (ESKD) on hemodialysis need supplemental vitamin D since the kidneys no longer activate it. Your doctor may prescribe calcitriol, Hectorol or Zemplar, the activated form of vitamin D. These active forms work differently in the body. You may be prescribed over-the-counter vitamin D supplements such as D2 and D3. They need to be taken as prescribed. For more information, talk to your nurse or dietitian.

Your nephrologist (kidney doctor) or primary care physician (PCP) may order a vitamin D level test. Use the chart below to help determine deficiency, adequacy or toxic levels.

Vitamin D Levels
nmol/L* ng/mL* Health status
<30 <12 Associated with vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to rickets in infants and children, and osteomalacia in adults
30 to <50 12 to <20 Generally considered inadequate for bone and overall health in healthy individuals
≥50 ≥20 Generally considered adequate for bone and overall health in healthy individuals
>125 >50 Linked to potential adverse effects, particularly at >150 nmol/L (>60 ng/mL)

Good Food Sources of Vitamin D

Food Micrograms (mcg) per serving International Units (IU) per serving Percent Daily Value
Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon 34.0 1360 170
Trout (rainbow), farmed, cooked, 3 ounces 16.2 645 81
Salmon (sockeye), cooked, 3 ounces 14.2 570 71
Mushrooms, white, raw, sliced, exposed to UV light, 1/2 cup 9.2 366 46
Milk, 2% milkfat, vitamin D fortified, 1 cup 29 120 15
Soy, almond, and oat milks vitamin D fortified, various brands, 1 cup 2.5-3.6 100-144 13-18
Ready-to-eat cereal, fortified with 10% of the DV for vitamin D, 1 serving 2.0 80 10
Sardines (Atlantic), canned in oil, drained, 2 sardines 1.2 46 6
Egg, 1 large, scrambled (vitamin D is in the yolk) 1.1 44 6
Tuna fish (light), canned in water, drained, 3 ounces 1.0 40 5
Cheese, cheddar, 1.5 ounce 0.4 17 2
Mushrooms, portabella, raw, diced, 1/2 cup 0.1 4 1
Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces 0.1 4 1
Beef, ground, 90% lean, broiled, 3 ounces 0 1.7 0

Recipes to Try from

Sheet Pan Salmon and Green Beans

Bagel with Egg and Salmon

Versatile Tuna Salad

Roasted Chicken


1. Shaw N.J., Pal B.R. Vitamin D deficiency in UK Asian families: Activating a new concern. Arch. Dis. Child. 2002;86:147–149. doi: 10.1136/adc.86.3.147. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

2. Jeon S.M., Shin E.A. Exploring vitamin D metabolism and function in cancer. Exp. Mol. Med. 2018;50:20. doi: 10.1038/s12276-018-0038-9. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

3. Table References:

NIH: Vitamin D

NIH: Your Kidneys & How They Work Vitamin D and Chronic Kidney Disease

Harvard School of Public Health: Vitamin D

Additional Kidney Diet Resources

Visit and explore these diet and nutrition resources:

DaVita Food Analyzer

DaVita Dining Out Guides

Today’s Kidney Diet Cookbooks

DaVita Kidney-Friendly Recipes

Diet and Nutrition Articles                                                                              

Diet and Nutrition Videos

Kidney Smart® Virtual Classes

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Consult your physician and dietitian regarding your specific diagnosis, treatment, diet and health questions.

Dawn Johnson, MS, RDN, LD

Dawn Johnson, MS, RDN, LD

Dawn Johnson MS, RDN, LD knew she wanted to be a dietitian when she was 18 years old. Now practicing over 20 years, Dawn has worked in various settings with a focus in renal nutrition over 12 years. She is passionate about addressing, examining and resolving people’s ambivalence for change. Dawn resides in Highland, Indiana with her husband and 2 young children. During her personal time, she likes to run, visit her local library and volunteer at church.