Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin critical for your vision, immunity, and reproductive health, ensuring healthy skin, hair and bones.
A recent NHANES survey of 16,444 people in the US found that 43% aren’t achieving the minimum intake of vitamin A.
Vitamin A is found in two forms.
- We find vitamin A in its provitamin form, beta-carotene, in plant foods.
- In animal foods, it is found as retinol.
This article will show how to get the vitamin A you need from food and meals you love to eat using the tools and charts we use in our Micros Masterclass.
- Vitamin A Food Chart
- Vitamin A Rich Foods (Per Serving)
- Vitamin A Rich Foods (Per Calorie)
- Vitamin A Boosting Recipes
- Why is Vitamin A Important?
- Functions of Vitamin A in Your Body
- Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency
- Vitamin A in the Food System
- Bioavailability of Vitamin A
- Vitamin A Excess and Toxicity
- Upper Limit Intake of Vitamin A
- Symptoms and Side Effects of Vitamin A Toxicity
- Does Vitamin A Help Your Skin and Acne?
- How Can I Increase My Vitamin A Intake?
- Synergistic Nutrients
- How Can I Calculate if I am Getting Enough Vitamin A?
- Nutrient Density Starter Pack
- Nutrient Series
Vitamin A Food Chart
The chart below shows a range of popular foods in terms of vitamin A (per calorie) vs vitamin A (per serve). Foods towards the right will provide more vitamin A per calorie, while the foods towards the top will provide more vitamin A in the serving sizes we typically eat them.
For more detail, you can dive into the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer), check out the food lists of popular foods below or download longer lists in our Optimising Nutrition Community here.
Vitamin A Rich Foods (Per Serving)
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.
The popular foods listed below will give you more vitamin A in the typical serving sizes we consume them in.
- sweet potato
- butternut squash
- bok choy
- mustard greens
- red bell peppers
- green peas
Vitamin A Rich Foods (Per Calorie)
Foods highest in vitamin A per calorie are listed below. Note that plant foods contain the provitamin form of vitamin A. Thus, your body will need to convert it for use, whereas the animal and seafood will be pre-formed vitamin A.
- bok choy
- coriander leaf
- butternut squash
- sweet potato
- beef liver
- mustard greens
- red bell peppers
Vitamin A Boosting Recipes
The chart below shows our 1400+ NutriBooster recipes that we use in the Micros Masterclass plotted in terms of vitamin A vs protein %. Recipes towards the right will help you boost your vitamin A with fewer calories.
To dive into the detail, you can open the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer). Then, click on each recipe to learn more about it and view a picture of the recipe.
Some examples of NutriBooster recipes that contain the most vitamin A are shown below.
Why is Vitamin A Important?
- Vision: Vitamin A is necessary for the proper functioning of the retina in the eyes. It helps maintain good vision, especially in low-light conditions. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness and, eventually, complete blindness.
- Immunity: Vitamin A is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. It helps in the production and functioning of white blood cells, which protect the body against infections and diseases.
- Skin and Hair Health: Vitamin A is important for maintaining healthy skin and hair. It helps in the production of sebum, which is a natural oil that keeps the skin and hair moisturised. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to dry, flaky skin and dull, dry hair.
- Bone Health: Vitamin A plays a role in forming and maintaining strong bones. It helps absorb and utilise calcium, which is necessary for bone growth and development.
- Reproduction and Growth: Vitamin A is essential for proper reproduction and growth. It is important for the development of the foetus during pregnancy and helps in the growth and development of children.
Functions of Vitamin A in Your Body
- Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin critical to vision, fertility, and reproduction, it also helps your heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs work properly.
- The liver stores Vitamin A until it’s needed for use by the body.
- Another name for Vitamin A is Retinol. This is due to its importance in the retina in your eye.
- Vitamin A plays an essential role in maintaining your immune system and preventing infection, as it is crucial for the health of protective epithelial tissue found in your gastrointestinal tract, lungs, and sinuses.
- We need vitamin A for healthy skin and to avoid acne.
- To see at night, we need adequate retinol.
- Vitamin A is also essential for reproduction and development.
- Vitamin A is one nutrient many people are not getting enough of, especially in developing countries.
- Although uncommon, getting too much vitamin A from food is also possible.
Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency
Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include:
- dry and scaly skin,
- dry lips and thickened tongue,
- corneal erosions,
- dry eyes,
- night blindness,
- poor vision,
- infertility and trouble conceiving,
- delayed growth,
- keratinisation of mucus membranes,
- low immunity,
- throat and chest infections,
- poor wound healing, and
Vitamin A in the Food System
The availability of vitamin A in our food system has decreased since the US Dietary Guidelines in 1977. People were encouraged to consume more grains and fewer animal products due to concerns about 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 do not consume much meat and seafood.
Bioavailability of Vitamin A
It’s important to understand that there are two types of vitamin A: its provitamin from beta carotene and its pre-form 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 pre-formed vitamin A if they get enough in their diet.
On the contrary, pre-formed 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. However, this is rarely an issue unless you consume a LOT 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 pre-formed 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 (3,000 mcg) is based on abnormal liver pathology in adults and developmental issues in babies of women taking excess supplementary pre-formed 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. However, if most of your vitamin A is coming from liver, you may want to back off the liver if you’re regularly exceeding 3000 mcg per day.
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 pre-formed 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 pre-formed 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 foetal 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.
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.
Vitamin A works synergistically with vitamins B2, B3, B12, C, D, and 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.
How Can I Calculate if I am Getting Enough Vitamin A?
If you’re interested in determining if you’re getting just the right amount of vitamin A in your diet, you can check your nutrient profile using our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge.
After a week of tracking your current diet in Cronometer, Nutrient Optimiser will give you a prioritised list of foods and NutriBooster recipes that will help you plug your current nutritional gaps, including selenium.
Nutrient Density Starter Pack
We’re eager to make the process of Nutritional Optimisation as simple as possible. So, to help you increase your intake of all the essential nutrients, including vitamin A, when you join our free Optimising Nutrition Community, you’ll get a starter pack that includes:
- Food Lists – optimised for each essential nutrient, goals, preferences and conditions.
- The Healthiest Meal Plan in the World – see what a week of nutrient-dense eating looks like.
- Recipes – check out samples of each of our NutriBosoter recipe books.
- 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge – identify your priority nutrients and the foods and meals that contain them.
- Biotin (B7)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pantothenic acid (B5)
- Vitamin B6
- Folate (B9)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K1
- Vitamin K2