15 Vitamin A Foods and How They Boost Your Health
This antioxidant is beneficial for your eyes, skin, immune system and more. Make sure you get enough with these top vitamin A foods.
How vitamin A boosts your health
Vitamin A is the first vitamin in the nutrition alphabet for a reason: Getting enough vitamin A helps promote healthy eyes and vision, beautiful skin, reproductive health, and a strong immune system.
This antioxidant vitamin also supports the health of other organs such as your lungs, heart, and kidneys. Vitamin A could play a role in preventing cancer and macular degeneration—the leading cause of blindness in elderly people.
Watch that you’re not making these 12 common vitamin mistakes.
What happens if you don’t get enough
Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the United States; it’s more of a concern in developing countries where people have less access to vitamin A-rich foods.
The symptoms of deficiency are vague, starting with fatigue. Perhaps the most common symptom is night blindness (chronic vitamin-A deficiency can lead to a complete loss of vision). Other symptoms include dry skin or rashes, itching, dry eyes, dry hair, broken nails, anemia, and a higher risk of infection.
Check out these signs that you might be running low on key vitamins.
How much do you need?
The USDA’s My Plate recommends that adults eat at least 4 to 6 cups of red and orange vegetables and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of dark green vegetables every week. Part of the reason for that advice is to make sure you get enough beta-carotene (which your body turns into vitamin A) to be healthy.
Your daily requirements depend on your gender and age: Men over the age of 18 should try to get 900 micrograms (mcg) per day, and women over the age of 18 should aim for 700 mcg/day. Pregnant women need 770 mcg, and breastfeeding women should get 1300 mcg/day.
Can you get too much?
Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, any that your body doesn’t use gets stored in your liver and fat cells—and it can easily build up and damage your liver if you take too much. Experts at the Institute of Medicine recommend staying below 3000 mcg of vitamin A a day—the kind from supplements and animal sources. Don’t worry about getting too much beta-carotene—the provitamin A you get from brightly-colored plant foods.
The top 15
Ready to bring your A-game? Here are the foods that are the highest in vitamin A and beta-carotene to add them to your shopping list.
Grab a knife and fork and get ready to dive in!
2.5 oz serving: 22,175 IU (444% DV)
While it may be the least popular food on this list, liver is packed with vitamin A. After all, it’s the primary storage spot for this fat-soluble nutrient. Before you dismiss the idea of getting your vitamin A from liver, try some classic liver and onions or pate.
AS Food studio/Shutterstock
1 medium-sized, with skin: 28,058 IU (561% DV)
If you’re a fan of baked or roasted potatoes, work some sweet potatoes into your routine. Their bright orange color is a sign that they’re jam-packed with beta-carotene which your body converts into vitamin A. Adding fat increases your body’s absorption of beta-carotene, so you have this dietitian’s permission to serve your sweet potato with butter or olive oil. Studies show that all you need is 1 teaspoon to get the vitamin A-boosting benefits.
1/2 cup canned: 19,065 IU (381% DV)
Don’t wait for fall, pumpkin lovers: This bright orange squash is an excellent source of beta-carotene. Better yet, use plain canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) and add it to overnight oats, smoothies, and more. Here are some other health benefits of pumpkins, too.
1/2 cup: 22,566 IU (451% DV)
Juice bars and Middle Eastern restaurants serve up fresh carrot juice by the glass all day long. That half cup serving delivers more than a day’s worth of vitamin A. Carrot juice is higher than carrots because it takes so many of carrots to make juice. The drawback? You’re missing out carrot’s healthy fiber. That’s why eating the whole veggie most of the time and juicing on occasion is a good idea.
And in case you wondered, here’s the truth about whether eating too many carrots can really turn you orange.
2.5 oz: 2,684 IU (54% DV)
Another vitamin A food that some people may find strange—but don’t knock it til you’ve tried it! The next time you go to a sushi bar, order some unagi, also known as barbequed freshwater eel. The texture is similar to white fish, and it’s absolutely delicious. Bonus: You’ll get your daily dose of vitamin A!
1/2 cup, cooked: 13,286 IU (266% DV)
You may have heard that raw vegetables are healthier than cooked—that’s not always true, especially with vitamin A. Half a cup of raw carrots provides 9,189 IU (184% DV).
Some of this is due to the shrinkage effect of cooking vegetables, which causes them to lose some water. Beyond that, the process of cooking carrots actually increases the amount of beta-carotene your body can absorb and the vitamin A your body can create. The result? Cooked carrots are actually higher in vitamin A than raw ones.
Just be sure to steam your carrots lightly so they’re still somewhat crisp rather than boiling them until they’re mushy like mom used to!
1/2 cup, cooked: 11,434 IU (229% DV)
Winter in every bite, butternut squash goes beyond comfort food and gets you most of the way to your daily vitamin A goal. It’s perfect in the classic butternut squash soup, roasted with some olive oil as a side or base for a salad. You can even bake with your leftover butternut squash—try this Butternut Squash Biscotti and you’ll be hooked!
1/2 cup cooked: 11,458 IU (229% DV)
Popeye was right: Spinach has the nutrients you need to be healthy and strong, and vitamin A is one of them. Just half a cup of steamed spinach gets you most of the vitamin A you need for the entire day.
Check out these 11 reasons you need to eat more spinach.
1/2 cup cooked: 5,358 IU (107% DV)
One of the hardiest leafy greens to grow, Swiss chard is as nutritious as it is delicious. Just half a cup of cooked Swiss chard gets you close to your daily goal. If you’re unfamiliar with cooking Swiss chard, just think of spinach but with a thicker stem. You can remove the stem or try dicing it and sauteeing for a delicious texture similar to celery. It’s perfect in this vegan Black Bean Power Bowl with Tahini Dressing.
1/2 cup, cooked: 7,220 IU (144% DV)
All hail the greens! Collard greens are a Southern specialty that packs in the beta-carotene. They’re also one of the 13 superfoods every healthy woman needs in her diet.
One cup, vanilla soft-serve: 1,014 IU (20% DV)
Just in case you needed another reason to go out for ice cream (beyond the obvious deliciousness), blame it on your desire to get more vitamin A. One cup of vanilla soft serve ice cream has about 278 mcg of vitamin A. How sweet is that?
1 cup: 945 IU (19% DV)
Ricotta cheese is a fantastic way to add more vitamin A to your diet. I love stirring it into pasta and use it to stuff a chicken or top roasted vegetables. Choose part-skim ricotta for fewer calories and less saturated fat.
3 oz: 731 IU (15% DV)
Pickled herring is a part of Czech, Polish, German, Baltic, Nordic and Jewish cuisines—and more. This delicacy offers a healthy dose of vitamin A along with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, eating oily fish is one of the weight loss secrets from around the world.
1 cup: 500 IU (10% DV)
You may know that milk is fortified with vitamin D, but did you know that producers also add vitamin A? Just one cup of milk has 149 mcg of vitamin A along with bone-building calcium.
1/2 cup: 2,706 IU (54% DV)
The bright orange color of this delicious and refreshing fruit is a sure sign it’s high in vitamin A. The sweetness of the melon pairs perfectly with savory foods like cheese, meat, and nuts. Enjoy your cantaloupe with prosciutto or with cottage cheese for a gourmet snack.
Next, don’t miss these 50 best healthy eating tips of all time.