If sweet potatoes and carrots are staples on your grocery list, you’re getting more than just a healthy carb for your meal prep and a crunchy veggie to snack on. These are also two top-tier vitamin A foods. Why does that matter? Because vitamin A plays a major role in many processes that keep our bodies healthy.
To make sure you’re getting enough of this essential vitamin in your diet, think about adding in some more vitamin A foods to your weekly shopping list. Below is a list of excellent vitamin A food sources, and some helpful information on how it works within your body.
Which Foods Have the Most Vitamin A?
There are two categories of vitamin A: preformed A and provitamin A. Preformed A is found in animal sources such as meat, seafood, and fortified dairy products, while provitamin A is found in plant sources. You can also get vitamin A in fortified foods, such as cereal.
Here is a quick list of 13 of the best vitamin A food sources, according to the National Institutes of Health:
|Food||Serving Size||mcg RAE|
|Beef liver, pan-fried||3 ounces||6,582|
|Sweet potato, baked in skin||1 whole||1,403|
|Frozen spinach, boiled||½ cup||573|
|Carrots, raw||½ cup||459|
|Part-skim ricotta cheese||1 cup||263|
|Pickled Atlantic herring||3 ounces||219|
|Fat-free or skim milk, with added vitamin A and vitamin D||1 cup||149|
|Cantaloupe, raw||½ cup||135|
|Sweet red bell pepper, raw||½ cup||117|
|Mango, raw||1 whole||112|
|Egg, hard boiled||1 large||75|
|Salmon, sockeye, cooked||3 ounces||59|
|Light tuna, canned in oil, drained solids||3 ounces||20|
What Is Vitamin A?
As a fat-soluble vitamin, our bodies use fat to absorb vitamin A to help keep the cells and membranes that support the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs healthy. Vitamin A also plays a role in vision, reproduction, cellular communication, and bone health.
While preformed A can be absorbed into the body directly, provitamin A has to be metabolized into an active form of vitamin A, explains Krista Maguire, RD, CSSD, nutrition manager at Openfit. Take beta-carotene, for example. This is the red-orange pigment that gives sweet potatoes and carrots their vibrant color, and it’s converted into vitamin A in the body.
Additionally, “vitamin A is an antioxidant and can support the immune system,” explains Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
How much vitamin A should you consume?
The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies measures vitamin A using micrograms (mcg) of retinol activity equivalents (RAE). RAE is used because preformed A and provitamin A have different bioactivities.
The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin A is 900 mcg RAE for men over the age of 14 and 700 mcg RAE for women over the age of 14. Women who are pregnant should get 770 mcg RAE and those who are breastfeeding should get 1,300 mcg RAE.
What Are the Benefits of Vitamin A?
Research suggests that vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene may protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cancer.
Vitamin A and Age-Related Macular Degeneration
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and follow-up AREDS2 study found that supplements containing antioxidants, zinc, and copper with or without beta-carotene may help slow the rate of vision loss in those with AMD or at high risk of developing AMD.
Vitamin A and Cancer
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, people who eat a lot of foods containing beta-carotene might have a lower risk of certain kinds of cancer, such as lung cancer or prostate cancer. “But studies to date have not shown that vitamin A or beta-carotene supplements can help prevent cancer or lower the chances of dying from this disease. In fact, studies show that smokers who take high doses of beta-carotene supplements have an increased risk of lung cancer.”
What Are Symptoms of a Vitamin A Deficiency?
Vitamin A deficiency is rare in America, although patients with cystic fibrosis can be at a higher risk for a vitamin A deficiency, Davis says. The most common symptom of a deficiency is xerophthalmia, an eye condition that causes an abnormal dryness of the cornea and membrane that covers the front of the eye. “One of the early signs of this condition is night blindness, being unable to see in low light or darkness, which then can progress into total blindness,” Maguire explains.
Can You Have Too Much Vitamin A?
Consuming high levels of some forms of vitamin A can be harmful. Getting too much preformed vitamin A can cause side effects such as headache, nausea, and dizziness or, more seriously, coma, and even death. High intake of preformed vitamin A for pregnant women can cause birth defects in their babies. Pregnant women should not take high doses of vitamin A supplements.
On the other hand, high amounts of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene or other provitamin A may cause your skin to turn yellow. “However, this isn’t harmful to your health,” Maguire says. And now that you know what food has vitamin A, focus on those.