Vitamin A is an essential vitamin which plays a critical role in vision, cell recognition, immune function and reproductive health. It is vital for the functioning of the heart, lungs, kidneys and digestive organs. Vitamin A foods include carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, eggs, butter, milk, meat, etc. There are several options when it comes to vitamin A foods for vegetarian and non-vegetarian people.
Read on to know more about vitamin A, its types, the recommended dosage, and vitamin A foods.
What is vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a group of fat-soluble retinoids, which include retinol, retinal, and retinyl esters. Two forms of vitamin A are available in the human diet – provitamin A carotenoids and preformed vitamin A.
Preformed vitamin A is found in foods from animals like meat liver, fish, and dairy products. The three provitamin A carotenoids are beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin.
These carotenoids come from plant sources (especially ones that are orange or yellow) and are converted by the body into vitamin A.
Both preformed vitamin A and provitamin A have to be metabolized by the body to form retinal and retinoic acid, the active forms of vitamin A.
What is the recommended intake of Vitamin A?
The amount of vitamin A you need depends on your age, health and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. The RDA for vitamin A is given as micrograms of retinol activity equivalents (RAE)
|0 to 6 months||400 mcg RAE||400 mcg RAE|
|7 to 12 months||500 mcg RAE||500 mcg RAE|
|1 to 3 years||300 mcg RAE||300 mcg RAE|
|4 to 8 years||400 mcg RAE||400 mcg RAE|
|9 to 13 years||600 mcg RAE||600 mcg RAE|
|14 to18 years||900 mcg RAE||700 mcg RAE||750 mcg RAE||1,200 mcg RAE|
|19 to 50 years||900 mcg RAE||700 mcg RAE||770 mcg RAE||1,300 mcg RAE|
|51 + years||900 mcg RAE||700 mcg RAE|
Vitamin A deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency is very rare in America though it is common in many developing nations. The most common symptom of a lack of vitamin A is xerophthalmia. It is the inability to see in low light and can lead to night blindness.
People can develop vitamin A deficiency if they do not eat enough foods high in vitamin A or if their body can not properly absorb or convert the vitamin A that they consume.
Vitamin A deficiency also occurs when there is decreased bioavailability of provitamin A carotenoids and when there is interference with absorption, storage, and transportation of vitamin A.
Health problems that may cause interference with absorption of vitamin A include celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic insufficiency, duodenal bypass, chronic diarrhea, bile duct obstruction, giardiasis and cirrhosis (1).
Vitamin A foods
As a general rule, fruits and vegetables that are orange or yellow are rich in vitamin A. As far as meats are concerned, foods that have higher fat content (full-fat dairy, liver, and eggs) are more likely to have vitamin A because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin.
Vitamin A1 (retinol) is only found in high-quality foods of animal origin. So, the top meat-based vitamin A foods are –
1. Beef Liver
Vitamin A content – 1 slice – 6,421 mcg (713 % DV)
Beef liver is amongst the most nutrient-dense foods. Other than vitamin A, it also contains high-quality protein, iron, B vitamins, copper, zinc, chromium, phosphorus, and selenium.
It supports cell growth, improves vision, strengthens bones and boosts the immune system.
2. Lamb Liver
Vitamin A content – 1 ounce – 2,122 mcg (236 % DV)
Lamb’s liver contains man vitamins including vitamin A, C, and many B vitamins. It is also a good source of iron, phosphorus, zinc, calcium, and magnesium. It helps prevent anemia, is beneficial during pregnancy and boosts immunity.
Vitamin A content – 1 teaspoon – 1,350 mcg (150 % DV)
Cod liver oil is one of the best vitamin A foods. It is high in omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains high amounts of vitamin D, and Vitamin A. Its health benefits include improved eyesight, strong bones, improved immune system and brain function.
4. King mackerel
Vitamin A content – Half fillet – 388 mcg (43 % DV)
King mackerel is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin B12, and selenium. This deep water fish lowers the risk of diabetes, prevents heart disease, boosts immunity and controls blood pressure levels.
5. Bluefin tuna
Vitamin A content – one ounce – 214 mcg (24 % DV)
Bluefin tuna is one of the most nutritious vitamin A foods. This powerhouse of nutrients also contains omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, iron, magnesium, vitamin B6 and B12.
It improves heart health, lowers blood pressure, strengthens bones and helps in weight loss.
6. Goat cheese
Vitamin A content – One slice – 115 mcg (13 % DV)
Goat cheese is more nutrition-dense than cow cheese. It contains vitamin D, vitamin K, and vitamin A. Goat cheese provides healthy fats and is low in calories. It is an excellent source of calcium, protein, and probiotics.
Vitamin A content – One tablespoon – 97 mcg (11 % DV)
Butter is also an excellent vitamin A food. The vitamin A in butter helps provide healthy teeth, skin, tissues, bones, eyes and respiratory function.
Let us learn about the top 10 vegetables that are rich in provitamin A.
8. Sweet potato (cooked)
Vitamin A content – 1 cup – 1,836 mcg (204 % DV)
Sweet potatoes are a powerhouse of vitamin A. A single baked potato can provide 561 percent of the daily recommended amount of this vitamin.
Experts recommend that you eat the sweet potato along with the peal to get the benefit of its high fiber content. According to research, increased consumption of sweet potatoes can decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality.
9. Winter squash (cooked)
Vitamin A content – 1 cup – 1,144 mcg (127 % DV)
Winter squashes are a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber. The most common varieties available in the supermarkets are butternut, delicata, spaghetti, kabocha, acorn and sugar pumpkins.
They can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, lower the risk of eye disease and prevent certain cancers.
10. Kale (cooked)
Vitamin A content – 1 cup – 885 mcg (98 % DV)
Kale is considered a superfood because it is packed with many important nutrients. It is also one of the best vitamin A foods. It contains vitamin A, vitamin K, calcium, and potassium.
It is known to help control diabetes, lower the risk of certain cancers, reduce blood pressure and prevent the development of asthma.
11. Collards (cooked)
Vitamin A content – 1 cup – 722 mcg (80 % DV)
Not only are collard greens a rich source of protein, fiber, calcium, and iron, but they are also an impressive source of vitamin A, vitamin K, and iron.
Eating collard green with healthy fats can help your body absorb the fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A better.
12. Turnip greens (cooked)
Vitamin A content – 1 cup – 549 mcg (61 % DV)
Turnip greens are an excellent source of nutrients and are low in calories. It is one of the best vegetarian foods high in vitamin A.
They belong to the cruciferous vegetable family and are a rich source of many vitamins and minerals. Turnip greens are known to help the cardiovascular system and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and hypertension.
13. Carrots (cooked)
Vitamin A content – 1 medium carrot – 392 mcg (44 % DV)
Carrots are one of the best-known vitamin A foods. Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene, vitamin K, fiber, potassium, and antioxidants.
They help improve eye health, lower cholesterol levels and also help in weight loss. The antioxidants in carrots have also been linked to reduced risk of cancer.
14. Sweet red pepper (raw)
Vitamin A content – 1 large pepper – 257 mcg (29 % DV)
Sweet red peppers are rich in nutrients like vitamin A, C, and K. They also contain vitamin B6, folate, and dietary fiber. They support healthy eyesight, help burn calories and also provide anti-cancer and cardiovascular benefits.
15. Swiss chard (raw)
Vitamin A content – 1 leaf – 147 mcg (16 % DV)
This nutritional leafy green is an excellent source of vitamin A, K, and C, potassium, magnesium, iron, and dietary fiber. Swiss chard contains carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin and flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol.
The health benefits of Swiss chard include improved heart health, lower risk for cancer and diabetes. It also helps keep bones healthy and improves digestion.
16. Spinach (raw)
Vitamin A content – 1 cup – 141 mcg (16 % DV)
Spinach is a good source of many vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, C, K1, folic acid, iron, and calcium. It helps decrease oxidative stress, regulates blood pressure, improves eye health and helps prevent cancer.
17. Romaine lettuce (raw)
Vitamin A content – 1 large leaf – 122 mcg (14 % DV)
Romaine lettuce is rich in beta-carotene which converts to vitamin A in the body. It is one of the healthiest vitamin A foods. It is low in fiber and rich in minerals like calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. It improves heart and eye health and helps prevent cancer.
Here are some of the best fruits that are rich in provitamin A.
Vitamin A content – 1 medium mango – 181 mcg (20 % DV)
Mangos are an excellent source of many vitamins like vitamin A, C, E, and folate. They provide almost 20 percent of your daily value for vitamin A, which promotes healthy eyesight and helps prevent night blindness.
They also help improve digestion, boost the immune system and lower cholesterol.
Vitamin A content – 1 large wedge – 172 mcg (19 % DV)
Cantaloupe is one of the best fruits when it comes to vitamin A foods. Vitamin A is an antioxidant which helps promote healthy vision, reduces inflammation and boosts immunity. Cantaloupe is also low in calories, so it promotes weight loss.
Vitamin A content – 1 medium – 143 mcg (16 % DV)
Grapefruits are rich in vitamin A and C. Its juice, peels and pulp; all are a rich source of nutrition. They lower the risk of heart disease or diabetes and are also known to promote clear and healthy skin.
Vitamin A content – 1 wedge – 80 mcg (9 % DV)
Watermelon is rich in carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lycopene. Though it is about 92 percent water, it is also rich in many other nutrients like thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, zinc, selenium, and betaine.
It helps to lose weight, improve heart health, lower oxidative stress and prevent macular degeneration.
Risks and precautions
It is highly unlikely that you may consume too much vitamin A from vitamin A foods. But you can have excess vitamin A through supplements.
Vitamin A toxicity symptoms include headaches, vomiting, confusion, joint pain and dry skin. Vitamin A supplements can also interact with birth control pills, cancer medication, blood thinners and acne medication.
While vitamin A is beneficial during pregnancy, too much of vitamin A can be harmful to the fetus.
Final words on vitamin A foods
Two forms of vitamin A are available in the human diet – preformed vitamin A and provitamin A carotenoids. Foods high in vitamin A include beef liver, lamb liver, cod liver oil, sweet potato, carrots, mango, and cantaloupe.
The health benefits of vitamin A foods include healthy vision, neurological health, and skin protection.