Vitamin A Rich Foods and Recipes: A Practical Guide

Which Foods Have the Most Vitamin A?

Vitamin A is found in two forms.

  • In plant foods, we find vitamin A in its provitamin form beta-carotene.
  • In animal foods, it is found as retinol.

Some popular food sources of vitamin A are listed below. 

Which Animal Foods are High in Vitamin A?

  • lamb liver
  • beef liver
  • chicken liver
  • whole egg
  • Parmesan cheese
  • raw milk
  • ghee
  • grass-fed butter
  • goat cheese
  • brie
  • milk 
  • cottage cheese 
  • yogurt

What Seafood is High in Vitamin A?

  • shrimp
  • salmon
  • cod liver
  • cod liver oil
  • king mackerel
  • tuna
  • trout
  • fish eggs (caviar, roe)

Animal and seafood are highest in retinol, the most bioavailable form of vitamin A.  Therefore, your body does not need to convert it into a different form, and hence is the most efficient way to get vitamin A from your diet.

What Fruits and Vegetables are High in Vitamin A?

  • butternut squash
  • carrots
  • spinach
  • chard
  • mangos
  • lettuce
  • kale 
  • parsley 
  • sweet potato 
  • almond milk
  • asparagus 
  • broccoli 

The vegetable sources of vitamin A are in the provitamin form.  Thus, your body will need to convert it for use, whereas the animal and seafood will be preformed vitamin A.

See the top foods rich in vitamin A at Nutrient Optimiser for more detail.  

Vitamin A Rich Recipes

Some of our NutriBooster recipes highest in Vitamin A include:

Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency

These include:

Availability of Vitamin A in the Food System

The chart below shows the availability of vitamin A in our food system, which has decreased since the US Dietary Guidelines in 1977.  People were encouraged to consume more grains and fewer animal products due to concerns around the impact of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet on heart disease risk. 

The amount of vitamin A typically available in the food system now is well below the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) and the Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) (data from USDA Economic Research Service).  As a result, many people need to prioritise foods that contain more vitamin A, particularly if they are not consuming a lot of meat and seafood.  

The decrease in vitamin A in the food system, along with several other nutrients, strongly correlates with increasing obesity rates.

Nutrient  correlation with obesity
sodium (g/2000 cals)-96%
calcium (g/2000 cals)-96%
cholesterol (g)-96%
saturated fat (%)-92%
potassium (g/2000 cals)-91%
vitamin A (RAE/2000 cals)-81%
phosphorus (g/2000 cals)-80%
vitamin B12 (mg/2000 cals)-70%
magnesium (mg/2000 cals) -33%

Bioavailability of Vitamin A

It’s important to understand that there are two types of vitamin A: its provitamin from beta carotene and its preform retinol

We get provitamin A carotenoids like alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin from plant-based foods like orange and green vegetables.  Beta carotene is one component that gives these colourful foods pigment.

Most people can convert adequate amounts of provitamin vitamin A to preformed vitamin A if they are getting enough in their diet. 

On the contrary, preformed vitamin A is found in animal-based products like dairy, liver, and egg yolk.  Because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, toxicity in vitamin A can develop if eaten in excess.  This is more likely to arise if someone eats significant amounts of liver every day.

While people talk about the fact that plant-based vitamin A is not as bioavailable, this rate-limiting step may be beneficial because it is possible to exceed the recommended upper limit for vitamin A with a nutrient-dense diet. 

However, the reduced bioavailability of vitamin A from plant-based foods may be an issue if you rely on a highly processed grain-based diet with minimal animal products or leafy veggies. 

Vitamin A Excess and Toxicity

As noted above, although it’s rare, you can get excessive levels of preformed vitamin A from animal products such as liver.  Vitamin A is fat-soluble, so it is harder to excrete than water-soluble vitamins. 

Some animals like seals, polar bears, halibut, and huskies have very high levels of vitamin A in their livers.  There have been reports of hypervitaminosis A when hungry and dehydrated explorers consume these animals’ livers.  

Otherwise, significant cases of hypervitaminosis A from whole foods are rare.  Most people don’t eat that much liver! 

Upper Limit Intake of Vitamin A

The Upper Limit set for vitamin A (10,000 IU) is based on abnormal liver pathology in adults and developmental issues in babies of women taking excess supplementary preformed vitamin A

It is relatively easy to consume vitamin A intake above the Upper Limit.  However, this is unlikely to be a concern from plant foods as the conversion of provitamin vitamin A is not easily converted to retinol.  

Symptoms and Side Effects of Vitamin A Toxicity

Taking excessive amounts of supplemental vitamin A for long periods can cause fatigue, hair loss, nausea, peeling of the skin, cracked lips, and headache.  As you can see, many symptoms of excess mirror those of deficiency.

Your vitamin A intake may be excessive if it comes exclusively from animal-based foods.  However, this is unlikely to be a concern unless you consume a LOT of raw liver.

High levels of provitamin vitamin A (plant forms) from a nutrient-dense diet are unlikely to be a concern because the body will not convert more preformed vitamin A (from plant-based foods) to provitamin A than it needs.  In addition, you will lose your taste for more liver once your Vitamin A stores are replete and are therefore unlikely to consume excessive Vitamin A from food. 

Although harmless, higher doses of vitamin A can give your skin a yellow or orange tint.  This is known as carotenosis.  Essentially, you will look like a carrot from getting too many carotenoids after eating too many carrots.

While vitamin A in your diet is critical to support healthy immune function, you should be careful supplementing high levels of preformed vitamin A.  High amounts of vitamin A have the potential to overstimulate your immune system and trigger a ‘cytokine storm’, which causes hyperinflation in the lungs, breathing difficulties, and even death. 

Vitamin A is a catalyst for many processes in fetal development, regulating various timed actions that are important for a growing baby.  Thus, if a pregnant woman or a woman trying to become pregnant takes vitamin A, it can contribute to congenital disabilities if taken in excess.  

Satiety Response to High Vitamin A Foods

Our satiety analysis shows that foods with more vitamin A per calorie tend to be more satiating. People consuming more vitamin A tend to eat 23% fewer calories than those consuming less of this nutrient.  

It’s interesting to note that the average intake by Optimisers is 18,000 IU per 2000 calories, which is significantly greater than the EAR of 2,000 IU per day and the DRI of 3000 IU per day.  

The DRI is based on the amount of vitamin A required to prevent deficiency in generally well-nourished subjects.  However, you’ll likely be getting much more than the DRI on a nutrient-dense omnivorous diet. 

It’s interesting to note that the 85th percentile intake for Optimisers is 35,200 IU per day, which is ten times the DRI and 3.5 times the Upper Limit (from supplementation).  As shown in the chart below, the vast majority of Optimisers are getting significantly more than the official Upper Limit for vitamin A of 10,000 IU/day.

While we have set the Optimal Nutrient Intake at 10,000 IU/2000 calories to align with the Upper Limit, it doesn’t appear that you will need to worry about getting more than the upper limit from food.  Rather than avoiding ‘excess’ vitamin A, Nutrient Optimiser will rank your food and meal recommendations to prioritise other nutrients once you are getting enough vitamin A. 

Does Vitamin A Help Your Skin and Acne?

Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin and the management of acne.  One of the most popular treatments for severe acne is Accutane: a synthetic mega-dosed version of a derivative of vitamin A known as a retinoid. 

Females commencing Accutane therapy have to ensure that there is no chance of becoming pregnant while taking Accutane due to the risk of congenital disabilities with excessive amounts of supplemental vitamin A.

If you’re into the beauty world, you may have come across popular skin creams called ‘retinoid creams’.  These use similar compounds to Accutane, as these are essentially synthetic forms of vitamin A.

How Can I Increase My Vitamin A Intake?

Increasing your vitamin A-game doesn’t have to mean eating loads of liver.  

By incorporating nutrient-dense plant foods and animal foods like eggs, dairy, ghee, and seafood daily, it should become easy to increase your vitamin A levels over time.  

Consuming vitamin A-rich foods, whether plant or animal, with a little fat, can aid absorption of this fat-soluble nutrient.  

Synergistic Nutrients

Vitamin A works synergistically with vitamins B2, B3, B12, C, D, E, magnesium, selenium, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, iodine, tyrosine, and zinc.  

For this reason, it’s best to consume vitamin A from nutrient-dense foods to ensure you’re consuming the entire complex of synergistic nutrients.  

Isolated supplements only supply vitamin A, making it hard for it to execute its functions on its own.

Nutrient Profile of Foods High in Vitamin A

The nutrient fingerprint below shows that we can get 22 times the Adequate Intake for vitamin A from food when we prioritise foods that contain it.  Hence, it’s unlikely you will need to go out of your way to prioritise vitamin A on a nutrient-dense omnivorous diet. 

How Can I Calculate My Vitamin A Intake? 

If you’re interested in checking your vitamin A intake, you can try out Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge

After a week of tracking your current diet in CronometerNutrient Optimiser will give you a prioritised list of foods and NutriBooster recipes that will help you plug your current nutritional gaps.

Level Up Your Nutrient Density

To help you level up your nutrient density, we’ve prepared a Nutritional Optimisation Starter Pack to ensure you are getting plenty of all the essential nutrients from the food you eat every day.    

The free starter pack includes:

  • Maximum Nutrient Density Food List
  • Sample Maximum Nutrient Density Recipe Book
  • Sample Maximum Nutrient Density Meal Plan.

To get started today, all you have to do is join our new Optimising Nutrition Group here

Once you join, you will find the Nutritional Optimisation starter pack in the discovery section here.

Nutrient Density Index

Minerals

Vitamins

Essential fatty acids