Plant Based Sources of Vitamin D

Vitamin D and Autism

This post is “part 3” of a series called Vitamin D and Autism. Readers asked for a post listing food sources of vitamin D to help maintain levels of vitamin D .

Food Sources of Vitamin D
Because the body cannot always get enough vitamin D from the sun, it can also be ingested. Fatty ocean fish like salmon, halibut and tuna are a good source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Both are important for brain health.  Some foods, like non-dairy milk and cereal, are often enriched with vitamin D. Other Vitamin D-rich foods include oatmeal, sweet potatoes, egg yolks, and organ meats like liver.

But for those who aren’t big fish eaters or are vegans, there is a reason why it’s hard to find plant sources of vitamin D. The reality is very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. Most of the vitamin D from plant based foods is artificially added or fortified as is most commonly seen in whole grain breakfast cereals.

Shiitake mushrooms naturally contain vitamin D-2. Ultraviolet-B enhancement of mushrooms boost the vitamin D content and have been used commercially to produce white, brown and portabella mushrooms that can meet 100 percent of your daily need in a 3 oz. serving, according to the USDA.

But as many in the autism spectrum are concerned with candida infection of the gut (a yeast), mushrooms (another type of yeast) are best avoided.

Therefore, until there is a discovery otherwise, your best bet for getting vitamin D is sunlight, or supplements especially when sun exposure is limited.
Vitamin D Supplements

I love these because they are free of: Yeast, Wheat, Milk, Egg, Soy, Salt, Tree Nuts, Peanuts, Shellfish, Gluten, Artificial Colors and Flavors, Salicylates and Preservatives and they are GMO Free!


Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of the links, your cost will be the same but SharingMom may receive a small commission. This helps to cover the maintenance of this site and keeps your subscription free. Thank you for your support!


This post is an excerpt from the ebook: E.A.T. An Italian Mother’s Guide to Going Casein-free in Autism Spectrum Disorders now available on Amazon.

Vitamin D and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Vitamin D and Autism

Vitamin D has become popular in the last few years due to its role in cancer prevention. More recently, doctors in Sweden have pointed to a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and autism. The idea that vitamin D deficiency may have a link to autism isn’t that big of a stretch considering that vitamin D deficiency is emerging in scientific literature as a possible culprit in a wide range of diseases.

In fact, Dr. John Cannell, an American doctor and Executive Director of the Vitamin D Council, connects vitamin D deficiency not only to autism, but depression, mental illness and a variety of other problems that plague our modern society.

Vitamin D and Autism

A unique aspect of vitamin D is that it is a nutrient that can be synthesized by the human body from our skin through the action of sunlight. Dr. Cannell contends that autism rates have skyrocketed since the late 1980s when in the interest of public health, medical experts advised us to avoid continued exposure to bright sunshine. It was then that sun avoidance and/or application of sunscreen was promoted to prevent skin cancer. However, that advice may have had the unintended consequence of making a large segment of the population vitamin D deficient.

Why We Need Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps the gut absorb calcium, which most people know is needed by bones and teeth need to grow and stay strong. But Vitamin D also has a role in various biological processes within the nervous, muscular and immune systems. Since sensory processing disorders, low muscle tone, brain inflammation and other immunity problems are common in many children with autism, it is worth investing research dollars into understanding  vitamin D’s role and its association to neurobehavioral disorders.

There are three main areas of human growth and development where vitamin D could have a direct impact on the development of Autism Spectrum Disorders: (1) the brain (2) immune system and (3) gene expression.

The Brain
Vitamin D receptors are present in the central nervous system, which is composed of the brain and spinal cord. Studies show that vitamin D protects nerves against toxic damage and has a positive effect on neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body. This relationship may play a role in brain development, sensory processing and mood regulation.

The Immune System
The healthy human body is equipped with a powerful set of tools for resisting the onslaught of invading microorganisms (such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites). Unfortunately, this set of biological tools, known as the immune system, sometimes goes awry and attacks the body instead of its invaders. This misdirected immune response is referred to as autoimmunity. Studies suggest that immune abnormalities, mainly autoimmunity to brain tissue, may also have a role in the development of autism in a subgroup of patients.

Vitamin D deficiency has also been implicated as an environmental factor that may trigger immune-related conditions, including allergies, food sensitivities and autoimmunity.  This may explain why many children with neurobehavorial disorders have various food sensitivities (i.e. reactions to gluten and casein).

Vitamin D has been shown to strengthen the body’s innate immune system by inducing a production of proteins with natural antibiotic actions that can combat bacterial and viral infections and thereby reduce inflammation throughout the body.

Gene Expression
Another biological action of vitamin D involves regulating the expression of more than 200 genes as a child grows in the womb. Studies have found adverse effects on fetal brain development during the third trimester of pregnancy related to vitamin D deficiency, including increased risk of schizophrenia and language difficulties. Proper levels of Vitamin D might reduce the risk of autism by diminishing the occurrence of random mutations of DNA thus keeping these mutations from influencing the development of the fetus.

Low maternal vitamin D level is a risk factor for premature delivery and statistics show that the risk of autism increases with each week a baby is born early. One paper suggests that Vitamin D deficiency–either during pregnancy or early childhood– may allow the genetic tendency for autism to express itself.

Several recent studies show that vitamin D deficiency is common among children with autism. However, the “vitamin D theory” of autism does not diminish other genetic and environmental contributions to autism occurrence. While current findings do not prove that taking vitamin D reduces the risk of autism, the theory is strong enough that further research is warranted to determine if symptoms may be reduced by treating a deficiency.


Read the next post in this series “Maintaining Vitamin D Levels in Autism“.


If you have enjoyed this article, please share it on your social media networks and forums. Parents of special needs kids are always looking for valuable info. Thanks!


This post is an excerpt from the ebook: E.A.T. An Italian Mother’s Guide to Going Casein-free in Autism Spectrum Disorders now available on Amazon.


Vitamin D Supplements

I love these because they are free of: Yeast, Wheat, Milk, Egg, Soy, Salt, Tree Nuts, Peanuts, Shellfish, Gluten, Artificial Colors and Flavors, Salicylates and Preservatives and they are GMO Free!


Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of the links, your cost will be the same but SharingMom may receive a small commission. This helps to cover the maintenance of this site and keeps your subscription free. Thank you for your support!



Doctors eye vitamin D link to autism

Researcher sees link between vitamin D, autism

Vitamin D and Autism

Vitamin D and Autism

Etiopathogenesis of autism spectrum disorders: fitting the pieces of the puzzle together

Kočovská E, Fernell E, Billstedt E, Minnis H, Gillberg C. Vitamin D and autism: clinical review. Res Dev Disabil. 2012 Sep-Oct;33(5):1541-50. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2012.02.015. Epub 2012 Apr 21. PubMed PMID: 22522213.

Holick, M. F. “Vitamin D: A Millenium Perspective,” Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, 2003; 88: 296-307.

Vitamin D

Eyles DW, Burne TH, McGrath JJ: Vitamin D, effects on brain development, adult brain function and the links between low levels of vitamin D and neuropsychiatric disease. Front Neuroendocrinol 2012

Mechanisms of Neuroprotective Action of Vitamin D3

Vitamin D and Inflammation

Clues to Immune System’s Role in Autism

Reduced serum concentrations of 25-hydroxy vitamin D in children with autism: Relation to Autoimmunity

Croen LA, Grether JK, Yoshida CK, Odouli R, Van de Water J: Maternal autoimmune diseases, asthma and allergies, and childhood autism spectrum disorders: a case–control study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2005, 159:151-157.

Cohly HH, Panja A: Immunological findings in autism. Int Rev Neurobiol 2005, 1:317-341.

Grant WB, Soles CM: Epidemiologic evidence supporting the role of maternal vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for the development of infantile autism. Dermatoendocrinol 2009, 1:223-228.


Replacing Calcium in the Casein-free Diet

Calcium | Casein-free Diet

Before embarking on a casein-free diet, consult your child’s doctor. Because dairy products are one of the main sources of calcium in children, you’ll need to make sure the child’s diet has other good sources of calcium, and vitamin D, in order to meet their nutritional needs.  Talk with your child’s doctor about whole foods, fortified foods (ie. calcium-enriched rice milk or coconut yogurt) and/or supplementation to avoid any nutritional deficiencies.

Calcium | Casein-free Diet

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Over 99 percent of the body’s calcium is found in bones and teeth. The skeleton serves as a reservoir of calcium for fundamental calcium-dependent functions throughout the body.

Apart from maintaining strong teeth and bones, calcium is essential for sending messages between cells and supporting tissues throughout the body. Calcium plays a major role in proper muscle function, nerve transmission and hormonal secretion. Since children with autism spectrum disorders commonly have low muscle tone, sensory integration issues and varying levels of anxiety, maintaining the proper level of circulating calcium is critical for the body to function at its best.

The body’s endocrine system—a system of glands that secrete hormones and provides a series of feedback mechanisms to the body, is charged with keeping calcium levels in check. The endocrine system includes a major role for calcitriol, the hormonal form of vitamin D, which is required for absorption of calcium in the small intestine. (Vitamin D post coming soon – learn about the importance of Vitamin D in this system and its link to Autism.)

Food Sources of Calcium

In the United States, an estimated 72 percent of calcium comes from milk, cheese and yogurt and from foods to which dairy products have been added (e.g., pizza, lasagna, dairy desserts). The remaining calcium comes from vegetables (7%); grains (5%); legumes (4 %); fruit (3%); meat, poultry, and fish (3%); eggs (2%); and miscellaneous foods (3%).

Since the casein-free diet requires removal of the foods that supply most of your child’s ingested calcium, I recommend you consult a licensed dietitian or nutritionist who can help tailor a menu to your child’s taste preferences as well as ensure that your child’s nutritional needs are being met.

Not all consumed calcium is absorbed once it enters the gut. Studies show that our intestines absorb about 30 percent of the calcium present in foods, and this varies with the type of food consumed. Therefore, to promote the best absorption, it is best to avoid processed foods and obtain vitamins and minerals from natural, whole foods.

The recommended daily allowance for children ages 1-3 is 700mg of calcium per day. Children 4-8 years old should take in 1000mg per day and children ages 9-18 should consume at least 1300mg per day. Based on those numbers, try to tailor your menu to include calcium-rich foods. Below are some examples foods high in calcium.

Kale (1 cup contains 180 mg)
Collard Greens (1 cup contains over 350 mg)
Turnip Greens (1 cup contains 250 mg)
Broccoli (1 cup contains 95 mg)
Raw fennel (1 medium bulb contains 115 mg)
Artichoke (1 medium artichoke contains 55 mg)

Blackberries (1 cup contains 40 mg)
Black Currants (1 cup contains 62 mg)
Oranges (1 orange contains between 50 and 60 mg)
Dried apricots (1/2 cup contains 35 mg)
Figs (1/2 cup contains 120 mg)
Dates (1/2 cup contains 35 mg)

Tempeh (1 cup contains 215 mg)
Amaranth (1 cup contains 275 mg)

Great northern beans (1 cup contains 120 mg)
Soybeans (1 cup contains 175 mg)
Adzuki beans (1 cup contains 65 mg)
Navy beans (1 cup contains 125 mg)

Blackstrap Molasses (2 tablespoons contains 400 mg)
Fortified non-dairy milk (ie. Almond, Soy, or Rice) (1 cup contains 200-300 mg)
Hemp milk (1 cup contains 460 mg)
Fortified orange juice (1 cup contains 300 mg)
Tahini (2 tablespoons contains 130 mg)
Almond butter (2 tablespoons contains 85 mg)
Roasted sesame seeds (1 oz. contains 35 mg)

Calcium Supplements
If you don’t think your child is getting enough calcium from food sources, consider adding a calcium supplement. While excess intake of calcium is almost never due to calcium intake from foods, the use of calcium supplements could lead to excessive calcium intake as a result of improper dosing.

Because calcium plays a major role in virtually every cell in the body and interacts with a large number of other nutrients, too much calcium may give rise to a variety of adverse effects. That is why it is recommended that you consult your physician before implementing any supplementation for your child.

The most common forms of supplemental calcium are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Generally fewer tablets of calcium carbonate are required to achieve the desired dose, thus, costs tend to be lower with calcium carbonate than with calcium citrate.  However, calcium carbonate is more often associated with side effects including constipation, flatulence, and bloating . If you choose calcium carbonate (which is also available as a chewable) monitor your child for those side effects.

When choosing supplements, make sure it is a casein-free formula. It should say so on the label. Select a form suited to your child’s age and abilities. Is it better to find a liquid, chewable tablet, capsule or powder?

Check the label to find out what kind of calcium the supplement contains. If the supplement contains calcium citrate, you can take it with or without food. If the supplement contains calcium carbonate, take it with food. Stomach acid produced while eating helps the absorption of calcium carbonate. It is also better to take calcium not at the same time as a multi-vitamin since some other minerals can interfere with calcium absorption.

Whatever supplement you choose, incorporate it into a schedule. For example, in our house, we take calcium in the evening after dinner. The routine helps us to remember to take it. Also, since calcium has been shown to help the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture the sleep-inducing substance melatonin, taking it in the evening hours helps prepare the body for a restful sleep.


This post is an excerpt from the ebook: E.A.T. An Italian Mother’s Guide to Going Casein-free in Autism Spectrum Disorders now available on Amazon.  


National Research Council. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011.

Vegan Sources of Calcium

Insomnia: Studies Confirm Calcium And Magnesium Effective