If you are low on vitamin A, nutritious food can be the easiest and most straightforward way to get your daily levels up. But figuring out what to eat and how much to have can be more than you’d bargained for. If that’s how you are feeling, help is at hand! Here’s a look at what you should be eating to raise those levels of vitamin A.
Vitamin A For Healthy Eyes, Skin, Teeth, And Tissue
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that your body needs for good vision (particularly low light vision) and healthy skeletal tissue, teeth, skin, soft tissue and mucous membranes.1 It also keeps your reproductive system, immune system, heart, kidneys, and lungs working well.2
Vitamin A is present in food sources as either preformed vitamin A or provitamin A carotenoids. Preformed vitamin A is available in animal-derived foods like meat, fish oils, eggs, and dairy. Vegetarian sources tend to be pro-vitamin A carotenoids, mainly beta-carotene. The latter are not as biologically available, so your body may not absorb or use them as efficiently as the animal-derived form of vitamin A. On the other side, these vegetable sources are an inexpensive source of vitamin A and have the nutrient in a form that’s not normally known to cause toxicity from excessive intake. Provitamin A carotenoids may, in fact, be the safest way to get in the nutrient.3
Recommended Intake Of Vitamin Is 900 mcg RAE Or 700 mcg RAE
The ideal intake of vitamin A varies based on your age, gender, and even whether you’re pregnant or nursing. Male adults should, in general, have 900 mcg RAE and female adults 700 mcg RAE. If, however, you have a baby on board, take 770 mcg RAE as a pregnant woman aged 19 and over (750 mcg RAE for teen mums) and 1,300 mcg RAE if you’re lactating (1,200 mcg RAE for teen mums). The recommended intakes are measured in mcg of retinol activity equivalents (RAE). This measure factors in differences between the bioactivity of retinol versus provitamin A carotenoids.
Here’s a look at the richest food sources of vitamin A. The % DV indicates how much of your daily value the food delivers. DV is a measure of richness in the nutrient, with a number of 20% and more indicating a very high source.4 The values are for a standard serving of the food.
1. Beef Liver And Liver Products
Liver and liver pate can be an indulgent treat that gives you a hefty amount of vitamin A. Just a single slice (81 gm) of beef liver pan fried has 6,273 mcg RAE.5 That’s 444% of your DV.6 You can also have lamb liver if that is more appealing to your palate. A similar serving of lamb liver (85 gm) has 6615 mcg RAE of the vitamin.7
Beef liver (1 slice, pan-fried, 81 gm): 6,273 mcg RAE (444% DV)
Be sure not to go overboard with liver. Because of its high vitamin A, it can cause problems if you consume too much of it. Ensure you limit intake of liver or liver products to no more than once a week, especially when pregnant to avoid the risk of birth defects from excessive intake.8
2. Sweet Potato
If you’re vegetarian, sweet potato can give you loads of the vitamin A you need. Simply swap out regular fries for oven-baked sweet potato chips or try mixing boiled sweet potatoes into your mashed potatoes for a nutrient boost.
Baked sweet potato (1 whole, baked in skin): 1,403 mcg RAE (561% DV)
Boiled sweet potatoes (0.5 cup): 1,290 mcg RAE (516% DV)
You could also have them roasted with olive oil and herbs, A whole baked sweet potato cooked in its skin has 1,403 mcg RAE of the vitamin, which amounts to 561% of the daily value.9 Half a cup of boiled sweet potatoes offer you 1,290 mcg RAE – that’s 516% DV. As a plant source, the vegetable gives you the carotenoid compound beta-carotene. Your body then converts it to vitamin A.10
Spinach (0.5 cup boiled): 573 mcg RAE (229% DV)
Spinach is a readily available green that fits nicely into most diets. Make a delicious spinach soup or add it to a stir-fry. Get your hands on clean, fresh leaves and it’ll work well in salads too. Smoothies and fresh vegetable juices can go green with some spinach for added nutrition. Or try an exotic Indian curry with pureed spinach. Half a cup of the boiled greens contains an impressive 573 mcg RAE, which gets you 229% DV of the nutrient.11
Carrots (0.5 cup, raw): 459 mcg RAE (184% DV)
It is hard to ignore carrots when you think beta-carotene. After all, the distinctive vibrant orange of the vegetable owes its color to the nutrient. But how much of the nutrient does it contain? Half a cup of raw carrots gives you a whopping 184% DV of your vitamin A, with 459 mcg RAE of the nutrient in this serving.12 Use it in coleslaw, try a carrot and raisin salad, or toss through with other vegetables and meat in a French dressing. If you prefer carrots cooked, you could add them to soups, casseroles, stews, and stir-fries. Or whizz up some carrots with orange for a refreshing drink.
When it comes to green leafy vegetables, kale often grabs a lot of the limelight and with good reason! Half a cup of boiled kale has around 443 mcg RAE of vitamin A, making it a force to reckon with its 177% DV.13
Kale (0.5 cup, boiled): 443 mcg RAE (177% DV)
Swap out some of your regular greens with kale in green smoothies and juices. If you enjoy its distinctive flavor, you may like having it in salads too. If not, try roasting kale leaves with olive oil and seasoning to dehydrate them in your oven at a low temperature. The crisp kale chips are addictive and great for you. Avoid store-bought chips, though – those may have too much salt, oil, and preservatives.
6. Pumpkin Pie
Yes, that delicious treat is also a great source of vitamin A! And that’s thanks to the pumpkin it contains, which like sweet potatoes and carrots is abundant in beta-carotene. Just a single slice of pumpkin pie – even the store-bought kind will do – has 488 mcg RAE of the nutrient. Which means indulging in a little naughtiness can give you 249% DV of vitamin A.14 You can always add sides of caramelized pumpkin roasted off in the oven for an extra nutrient boost.
- Pumpkin pie (1 slice): 488 mcg RAE (249% DV)
- Pumpkin (0.5 cup, boiled): 288 mcg RAE (141% DV)
If you’re feeling angelic, stick to plain roasted or boiled pumpkin as a side or as your main meal in a hearty stew or curry. Just half a cup of boiled pumpkin has 706 mcg RAE or about 141% DV of the vitamin.15
Melons are wonderful sweet fruit that can get your day off to a great start or revive you on a hot summer’s day. Make a refreshing melon salad by grating in a little ginger, and adding in some mint and honey to taste to your serving of melon. Or have your melon with some cheese on the side or wrapped with prosciutto, Italian style.
Cantaloupe (0.5 cup): 135 mcg RAE (54% DV)
Just half a cup of the fruit has 135 mcg RAE of the vitamin. And that gets you a little over half of the DV (54%) you need.16
8. Red Peppers
Red peppers (0.5 cup): 117 mcg RAE (47% DV)
Get your chili on with some red peppers. Their sweet warmth can liven up any recipe. Use them to add a wonderful smoky flavor to salsas and sauces if you roast them off in the oven before using. Or make a cool gazpacho with your red peppers in summer or a hearty meat stew with them in winter. They are also great eaten raw, adding a little bite and crunch to any meal. And you need just half a cup of the raw red peppers to get 47% DV or 117 mcg RAE of vitamin A.17
9. Dairy Products
- Ricotta cheese, from skim milk (1 cup): 263 mcg RAE (19% DV)
- Soft serve ice cream (1 cup): 278 mcg RAE (20% DV)
- Skim milk (1 cup): 149 mcg RAE (10% DV)
- Whole fat milk (1 cup): 112 mcg RAE (7%)
Milk and dairy products contain vitamin A and are an easy way to increase intake of the nutrient. Have a plain cup of milk with your cereal and you’re already adding to your daily levels of vitamin A. A cup of whole fat milk (3.25% fat) offers you 112 mcg RAE (7% DV). If you enjoy cheese, some fresh ricotta may be a delicious way to get in the nutrient. A cup of it made from partly skimmed milk has 263 mcg RAE or 19% DV of the vitamin. Even a cup of an indulgent soft-serve ice cream has 20% DV or 278 mcg RAE of vitamin A. If you pick fortified versions of milk, you will end up having as much as 10% DV or 149 mcg RAE in a cup of skimmed milk.18
Mangoes (1 medium sized fruit): 112 mcg RAE (45% DV)
A single juicy mango could give you almost half of the vitamin A you need every day. Mangoes are great on their own, but also work a treat in yogurt or smoothies or juices. You could also make desserts with this exotic fruit – like a mango cheesecake or mousse, or even a Thai style sticky rice and mango dessert. If you want it in your main meal, try tossing together a chicken and mango salad – it’s a match made in heaven. A single, medium-sized fruit contains 112 mcg RAE of the vitamin or 45% DV.19
11. Black-Eyed Peas
Black-eyed peas (1 cup, boiled): 66 mcg RAE (26% DV)
A great vegetarian protein source, cowpeas or black-eyed peas contain 26% DV or 66 mcg RAE of vitamin A in a cup (boiled).20 Go ahead and experiment with them in exotic Moroccan or Asian curries, or make an American southern style spicy black eyed peas recipe like Hoppin’ John.
12. Pickled Atlantic Herring
If you enjoy your fish, you’ll like this Scandinavian delicacy that doubles up as a source of vitamin A. One 3 ounce serving of pickled Atlantic herring has 219 mcg RAE of vitamin A or the equivalent of 15% DV.21 The pickled version of the herring has much higher vitamin A content than a fillet of the fish that’s raw or cooked with dry heat. These have just 24 mcg and 31 mcg per 3 ounce serving, respectively.22 23
Pickled Atlantic herring (3 ounces): 219 mcg RAE (15% DV)
Serve up your pickled herring as the Swedes do – accompanied by some chives, chopped dill, and red onion. You could also toss up a salad using the herring with mustard, yogurt, beets, potatoes, and dill. Or just enjoy it with rye bread. But don’t go overboard with this delicacy either, especially if it’s pickled in brine. You don’t want issues from consuming too much sodium. Instead, just use it once in a way to shake things up!
Many Fortified Foods Also Have Vitamin A
Preformed vitamin A is added to some foods to improve their vitamin content. Some already contain the vitamin, like milk, but may have more added in to bring it to a higher level. Here’s a list of typical vitamin A-fortified foods, including some kitchen staples24:
- Milk (with additional vitamin A)
- Fats and Oils
While these make it easy to get your vitamin A, many are also processed and come with the negatives of often being high in fat, sugar, and salt. Consider these as a last resort. Go easy on them and eat fresh instead, getting your vitamins directly from a variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat that’ll keep your body and tastebuds happy!
|↑1||Vitamin A. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑2||Vitamin A. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑3||Chapter 7. Vitamin A.The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.|
|↑4||Vitamin A.Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑5||Beef, variety meats and by-products, liver, cooked, pan-fried. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑6, ↑9, ↑11, ↑12, ↑14, ↑16, ↑17, ↑18, ↑19, ↑21||Vitamin A. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑7||Lamb, variety meats and by-products, liver, cooked, pan-fried. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑8||Vitamin A. National Health Service.|
|↑10||Beta-carotene.University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑13||Kale, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt . United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑15||Pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑20||Cowpeas (blackeyes), immature seeds, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt.United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑22||Fish, herring, Atlantic, raw .United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑23||Fish, herring, Atlantic, cooked, dry heat. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑24||Chapter 7. Vitamin A. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.|