The Best Food Sources of Vitamin A to Add to Your Diet
If you want to maintain youthful skin, healthy hair, and a sharper sight, your morning collagen latte isn’t the only thing that’ll give you lustrous locks and a wrinkle-free glow. In the world of vitamins and nutrients, vitamin A is the superhero for your sight, skin, and hair. This fat-soluble vitamin also ensures your immune and reproductive systems are on their A game. Some research even suggests that vitamin A might help prevent cancer and macular degeneration, a main cause of blindness in older adults, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
There are two different types of vitamin A you can get from food. The first is a plant-based antioxidant, most commonly beta-carotene, that your body converts into vitamin A. The other type is a ready-to-use form found in animal foods. Both count toward your daily needs, notes Christy Brissette, R.D., president of 80-Twenty Nutrition. Here’s how much you should aim for daily to reap all those benefits, along with 12 of the best food sources of vitamin A. And to learn more about the best foods for your face, check out 25 Healthy Foods That Give You Glowing Skin.
How Much Vitamin A Do I Need Per Day?Shutterstock
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends men aim for 900 micrograms of retinol activity equivalents (RAE) and women 700. But because the math can get complicated, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating 4 to 6 cups of red and orange veggies and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of dark green veggies weekly to hit your target, says Brissette.
Since most Americans eat plenty of meat and dairy (both good sources of vitamin A), a vitamin A deficiency isn’t common in the U.S. It’s more of an issue in developing countries, which have less access to fresh produce and meat, Brissette says. Symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency include fatigue, night blindness, dry skin and hair, and brittle nails. But “if you’re meeting the USDA’s recommended veggie amount, you should hit your goal,” says Brissette.
On the flip side, too much vitamin A can damage your liver, where unused vitamin A is stored, explains Brisette, so you want to be cautious about how much vitamin A supplements you’re taking. Want to make sure you’re on your best vitamin A game? Here are a few of the top food sources of vitamin A to add to your diet.
“This one tops my list,” says Brissette. A medium sweet spud with the skin on packs a whopping 560 percent of your daily value (DV) of vitamin A. Sweet potatoes are higher in fiber than white and yellow potatoes, which helps keep you regular, lowers your risk of diabetes and heart disease, and boosts your immune system by promoting a healthy balance of gut bacteria. They’re also lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes, so they don’t raise and drop your blood sugar as much, keeping your hunger in check and helping you manage your weight.
Because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, you’ll absorb it better if you pair your potato with just five grams of healthy fat like olive oil, butter, or avocado oil, says Brissette. Try one of these delish sweet potato recipes.
You might not think liver ever makes it to your plate, but it does if you ever dip into paté or foie gras on a charcuterie board. In three ounces of pan-fried beef liver, you’ll get 444 percent of your daily vitamin A needs. “Liver is the main place extra vitamin A is stored in us and in animals, so if you eat animal liver that’s where a lot of it is,” says Brissette. With that said, liver is also high in saturated fat, so it’s not a nutritionist’s top pick—especially compared to the other options on this list. “If you have enough veggie sources and dairy, you’ll be covered,” says Brissette.
“People only think of red and orange veggies as having beta-carotene, but some leafy greens are rich in it as well,” says Brissette. Half a cup of cooked spinach, for example, has 229 percent of your DV of vitamin A. It’s also loaded with antioxidants and vitamins C, E, K, and B along with fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Brissette likes keeping frozen spinach cubes on hand to throw into pasta sauce, smoothies, and soups to bump up the veggie content.
The other dark leafy green that’s high in vitamin A, broccoli serves up 24 percent of your DV in 1/2 cup boiled, plus it’s packed with many of the same antioxidants and nutrients as spinach. Brissette buys broccoli frozen or fresh and chops it into tiny pieces to add to frittatas, omelets, and scrambles. Or she’ll top it on rice in her rice cooker or Instant Pot to bulk up the veggies and bring down the calories.
“We probably think about carrots for improving eyesight because of World War II nutrition posters that encouraged people to eat carrots so they could see in the dark,” says Brissette. Another great source of beta-carotene, half a cup of raw carrots has 184 percent of your DV of vitamin A. And don’t worry about the sugar. “They’re packed with fiber, and you’d have to eat a lot of carrots for that to be an issue,” she adds.
While baby carrots are a super convenient and healthy snack dipped in hummus, try shredding whole carrots and adding to salads or tossing diced ones to tomato sauce to cut the acidity and add a sweet flavor without adding sugar.
A super-hydrating fruit, half a cup of the golden melon nets 54 percent of your DV of vitamin A. Brissette suggests chopping or balling up cantaloupe and adding them to a pitcher of ice water with cucumber slices to make a fresh fruit infusion. Or freeze cantaloupe bits and serve with ice cubes in water. If a cantaloupe is a bit over- or under-ripe, scoop out flesh and toss in a blender to make cantaloupe juice.
One whole mango delivers 45 percent of your DV of vitamin A, but it’s also rich in vitamin C and other immune-boosting antioxidants. Brissette suggests dicing it up with red onions, jalapenos, and cilantro to make a mango salsa served on top of fish or shredded chicken tacos.
Noticing a trend with the orange fruits and veggies on the list? Beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid, which is also a pigment that gives food its color. (You’ll also find beta-carotene in spinach and broccoli, but they’re green because they also have chlorophyll.) “Dietitians recommend eating the rainbow because phytochemicals come in different colors, and each is a hint that there are pigments with different health benefits,” says Brissette.
If you’re really looking for a vitamin A hit, choose dried over fresh apricots for a more concentrated source. 10 dried apricots add up to 25 percent of your DV of vitamin A. Stash a bag of no-sugar-added dried apricots in your office drawer for an easy, storable snack. Just keep an eye on your portions since dried fruit is higher in sugar and calories per volume than the fresh stuff. “Having a couple of tablespoons of dried fruit per day is fine, but I always recommend going for fresh or frozen first,” says Brissette.
Here’s a dessert with a slice of health benefits. In a slice of pumpkin pie, you’ll get 249 percent of your DV of vitamin A. “Because it’s been cooked and blended, you’re getting a higher concentration than when it’s fresh,” says Brissette. But since the calories in a slice add up, a healthier option is to try swapping plain canned pumpkin—not pumpkin pie filling—as a nutrient-rich replacement for oils in recipes like pumpkin bread or pancakes, she suggests.
Red Bell Peppers
While you might think of peppers as a good source of vitamin C, fiber and potassium, 1/2 cup of raw chopped red peppers also offers 47 percent of your DV of vitamin A. Whip up the latest Instagram trend: The pepperwich. Chop a bell pepper in half, hollow out the seeds, and use it like bread by stuffing it with your favorite salad fillings (think tuna salad, brown rice, egg salad, chicken salad, etc.). Or stuff it with ground turkey, tomato sauce, mushrooms, and shredded cheese, and bake in the oven.
Because it’s fortified, a cup of milk has about 10 percent of your daily vitamin A needs. While that’s not a lot, it’s a decent amount considering the protein, calcium, and vitamin D you’re also downing. If you sip on milk alternatives, keep in mind that some are fortified with vitamin A but a lot aren’t.
In terms of meat sources, oily fish is your best bet since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, says Brissette. (Chicken, for example, only has about one percent of your DV of vitamin A). Salmon, herring, trout, arctic char, tuna, and eel are all decent sources. In three ounces of cooked sockeye salmon, you get four percent of your daily needs.
That said, you’ll want to eat fatty fish mostly for its other nutrients, especially anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids that support your heart health and brain function. Fatty fish is also one of the few foods that’s naturally high in vitamin D to support your bone health and immune system. Brissette suggests making poke bowls at home using high-grade salmon and yogurt instead of mayo, or burgers pan-fried in avocado oil using canned salmon.