Vitamin A is a fat-soluble micronutrient that is essential for good health. Specifically, vitamin A helps to maintain healthy teeth, healthy bones, glowing skin and good eyesight. Additionally, adequate intake of vitamin A. supports the function of the mucus membranes in the body.
Like most nutrients, it’s best to get your vitamin A from whole food sources. But what types of foods contain enough vitamin A to stave off deficiency? Below we’ll talk about what foods are are rich in vitamin A and how you can be sure to get enough of them in your daily diet.
Retinoids vs. Carotenoids
Before we dive into which foods are best for maintaining your vitamin A levels, it is important to note that there are two main ways our bodies get this micronutrient from foods. The first is from foods that contain retinoids or “preformed” vitamin A. The second is from foods containing carotenoids (otherwise known as provitamin A).
Generally speaking, preformed vitamin A is more accessible for the body to absorb and use. This type of vitamin a is ready to use as soon as we consume it. In contrast, provitamin A is a chemical precursor to the usable form of this nutrient. Our bodies synthesize vitamin A from provitamin A, but it takes a more significant amount than just eating the preformed variety.
On the other hand, all of the foods that contain preformed vitamin A are animal-based, and many are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. If you currently have high cholesterol, heart disease, or a family history of either, it’s probably best for you to avoid animal-based sources of vitamin A.
If you are relying solely on provitamin A, it is imperative that you eat a wide variety of highly pigmented fruits and vegetables. Intense coloration is a good indicator that a fruit or vegetable contains a high amount of carotenoids and will help your body to make the vitamin A that it needs to function correctly.
In either scenario, if you suspect that you have a vitamin A deficiency, it is best to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider. He or she will be able to assist you in raising your vitamin A levels and maintaining good health. Keep in mind; vitamin A supplements can be dangerous if taken in large quantities and it is best to get all of your nutrients from food-based sources.
Animal Based Sources of Preformed Vitamin A
As we mentioned above, the most bioavailable form of vitamin A comes from animal-based foods. Most of these foods are high in both cholesterol and saturated fat. However, if eaten in moderation, these foods can provide you with adequate levels of vitamin A without compromising your health.
Remember, if you have a history of high cholesterol or heart disease, you should avoid consuming most of these foods. Stick to lean meats, low-fat dairy, or skip the animal products altogether and get your vitamin A from fruits and vegetables.
While liver is not as commonly eaten as some of the other foods on this list, it is incredibly high in vitamin A. If you are suffering from vitamin A deficiency, this amazing food can provide you with more active vitamin A than most other foods.
Unfortunately liver (of all types) is also incredibly high in cholesterol, may contain high concentrations of pesticides and antibiotics, and has an unusually strong flavor.
Fish and Seafood
Several varieties of fish are high in preformed vitamin A. If you enjoy seafood, this can be a great way to increase the vitamin A in your diet. The following varieties of fish have the best levels of Vitamin A:
If you enjoy cheese in your daily diet, consider adding some of these varieties in. Each of the cheeses listed below is high in preformed vitamin A and will help to stave off deficiencies:
Other Animal Foods
In addition to the foods listed above, there are a few other animal-based products are high in vitamin A. These foods include the following:
Plant-Based Sources of Provitamin A
Provitamin A is the chemical precursor to vitamin A. When we consume foods that are high in carotenoids, and our bodies create the vitamin A we need to stay healthy and stave off deficiency. It’s important to note here that to get adequate amounts of vitamin A from plant-based foods, you must consume sufficient quantities on a regular basis.
Plant-based foods are naturally cholesterol free, and most are low in fat. If you have concerns about your heart health, these vitamin A foods will help you to prevent deficiency while also keeping the rest of your body in good working order. As a bonus, adding more fruits and veggies to your diet can improve your immune system and encourage natural weight loss.
If you have concerns about your cholesterol or you avoid animal products for other reasons, the foods listed below will help you maintain a healthy diet. Remember, if you are ever concerned about vitamin A deficiency, its best to get your vitamin A levels tested by your doctor or healthcare provider.
While many vegetables are well-known for their high concentration of carotenoids, it is a lesser known fact that many fruits are an excellent source of provitamin A as well. For many people, adding extra servings of fruit to your diet may be a more natural transition than upping your veggie intake.
We would like to note that fruits generally do not contain as much vitamin A promoting compounds as vegetables. But, fruits are a healthy addition to nearly any diet and will help to stave off vitamin A deficiency. Some sources include:
As with fruits, your body can use the provitamin A found in many vegetables to create its own vitamin A as needed. Plants with the highest concentrations of carotenoids are vibrant in color because they contain a lot of pigment. To increase your body’s ability to make vitamin a, eat a wide variety of the vegetables listed below:
How To Get the Most from Your Vitamin A Foods
If you are used to eating a diet packed with processed foods, it may feel impossible to get enough vitamin A in your diet. Plus, some vitamin A foods provide more of this essential micronutrient when prepared in a specific way. Below you’ll find some ideas for getting the most out of the foods we’ve listed above.
Include Fat in Your Diet
Because both forms of vitamin A are fat soluble, it is vital that your diet includes an adequate amount of fat in order to absorb this essential nutrient. Be sure to consume enough healthy fats alongside the foods listed above that your body will be able to use the vitamins you’re eating.
If you are relying on plant-based sources of provitamin A to meet your daily nutrient requirements, it is even more important to include fat in your diet. Because most plant-based foods are naturally low in fat, consider adding nut butter, whole nuts, and seeds, or a small amount of vegetable oil to your meals.
But, Not too Much
On the other hand, including too much fat in your daily diet can lead to a host of unwanted issues. If your vitamin A consumption is predominantly composed of animal-based products, you shouldn’t worry about adding extra fats. In fact, to maintain good health carefully consider how well you are balancing these high-fat foods with other low-fat foods.
What About Cooking?
Unlike some micronutrients, vitamin A is relatively heat stable. Cooking generally does not destroy or degrade the vitamin A found in foods and may increase the number of carotenoids in some fruits and vegetables. To get the most nutrition out of your meals, consider a gentle cooking method such as steaming or baking.
Can You Eat Too Many Vitamin A Foods?
Unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins can accumulate in the body and may become dangerous if consumed in high concentrations. But when it comes to vitamin A, this issue is a bit more complicated.
Because there are two common dietary types of vitamin A, your potential for toxicity will depend on the model you regularly consume. In general, you are more likely to “overdose” on animal-based sources of vitamin A foods. Symptoms of this condition include:
- Loss of Appetite
When you are relying on plant-based sources of provitamin A, you are not likely to develop hypervitaminosis A. But consuming a large number of specific carotenoids can lead to discoloration of the skin. To be more specific, your skin can produce a yellow or orange coloring.