During this shelter-at-home time, we’re all trying to be extra careful about what we’re eating — plenty of fruits and vegetables for strong immunity, plenty of water for good hydration and plenty of exercise.

We may want to add plenty of vitamin D to the list.

Known as the sunshine vitamin, our bodies can make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. However, dark winter days, abundant rain and even sunscreen make it more difficult in some areas.

Up to 50 percent of the world’s population may not get enough sun, and 40 percent of U.S. residents are deficient in vitamin D. We simply spend too much time indoors, wear sunblock outside and eat a diet low in good sources of vitamin D.

Now there’s another reason to think about vitamin D. There is plenty of research underway to see if vitamin D protects against COVID-19. Most of it is preliminary, but there’s a handful of recent studies that claim vitamin D may play a role in both the risk of catching the disease and the severity of it. Stay tuned on that.

The empty shelves at grocery stores might lead you to believe the research is conclusive. At this point, there isn’t proof that vitamin D status plays a role in the risk of death from COVID-19.

However, there’s plenty of proof that vitamin D is important for a healthy diet. It helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, both of which are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. And there is much to gain by having better vitamin D status.

What can you eat to boost your vitamin D levels?

Here are six healthy foods that are high in vitamin D:

» Salmon, especially wild salmon. Wild salmon contains about 988 international units, or IUs, of vitamin D per serving, while farmed salmon contains 250 IUs, on average.

» Herring and sardines. Fresh Atlantic herring provides 216 IUs per serving. Pickled herring, sardines and other fatty fish, such as halibut and mackerel, are also good sources.

» Canned tuna. Canned light tuna packs up to 268 IUs of vitamin D in a 3.5-ounce serving.

» Egg yolks. A typical egg yolk has 37 IUs of vitamin D. The levels depend on the chicken’s exposure to the sun and the vitamin D content of the chicken feed. Chickens that roam outside have higher levels. (Just like us.)

» Mushrooms. Mushrooms synthesize vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet light. Wild mushrooms are excellent sources, but for commercially grown mushrooms, the amount depends on whether the mushrooms were exposed to UV light. If they were, it will be listed on the label.

» Fortified foods. Milk, soy milk, orange juice, cereals and oatmeal are often fortified with vitamin D, anywhere from 54 to 136 IUs per serving.

The bottom line is vitamin D may or may not play a role in preventing COVID-19, but be assured, it does play a role in your health. Have your doctor check your level, especially if you’re over 50. And add some vitamin D-rich foods to your diet to make sure you get enough of this important nutrient.


Q: Is butter good or bad for you?

A: Butter is rich in nutrients and beneficial compounds like butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid. However, it’s high in saturated fat and calories. Enjoy it in moderation.

Saute your chicken in better-for-you olive or canola oil, and save your butter for your toast or baked potato. It’s best to consume it alongside a mix of heart-healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and fatty fish.

Tuscan Lemon Chicken Sauté

Here’s a great recipe to get you started on healthier eating. It’s a chicken sauté with an Italian flair that is high-fiber, low-carb and high in protein. It’s from Hy-Vee.


» 1 pound chicken breast tenders

» ¼ teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning

» 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

» 2 cups broccoli florets

» 2 cups tricolor bell pepper strips

» 1 cup zucchini and summer squash

» ½ cup low sodium chicken broth

» 1 teaspoon lemon zest

» 2 tablespoons lemon juice

» 1½ teaspoons Italian seasoning

» 1 (15-ounce) can great Northern beans, drained and rinsed


Pat the chicken tenders dry; sprinkle with lemon pepper seasoning. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken 5 to 8 minutes or until done (165 degrees), turning occasionally. Remove from skillet; keep warm.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in same skillet over medium heat. Add the broccoli, and cook 1 minute. Add the bell pepper strips, zucchini and summer squash, and cook 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium high. Add the chicken broth, lemon zest, lemon juice and Italian seasoning. Heat through. Stir in the beans.


Serves 4

Per serving: 300 calories; 33 grams protein; 26 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams fat; 65 milligrams cholesterol; 6 grams fiber; 4 grams total sugars (0 added); 460 milligrams sodium

— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at charfarg@aol.com, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois, and the current president of the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at charfarg@aol.com, and follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd. The opinions expressed are her own.