Vitamin A 3

by Jack Norris, RD


Vitamin A in Plant Foods

Pre-formed vitamin A exists only in animal products. However, there are about 50 carotenoids that the body can convert into vitamin A, with the most common being beta-carotene. The vitamin A content of foods is measured in retinol activity equivalents (RAE). You may also see carotenoids measured in international units, or IU. One IU beta-carotene from foods is equivalent to 0.05 micrograms RAE and 1 IU beta-carotene from dietary supplements is equivalent to 0.15 micrograms RAE.

The table below lists the RAE of common plant foods. Vegans should make a point of eating two or more foods high—over 400 RAE—in vitamin A each day.

Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE)

Food Size RAE
Carrot juice 1 C 2,256
Sweet potato 1/2 C baked 961
Pumpkin 1/2 C canned 953
Carrot 1/2 C boiled slices 665
Butternut squash 1/2 C baked, cubes 572
Carrot 1 medium 509
Spinach 1/2 C cooked 472
Cantaloupe 1/2 medium 467
Broccoli 1 C boiled 120
Apricot 1/2 C dried 117
Mango 1 C pieces 89
Kale 1/2 C cooked 86
Apricot 1 raw 34

Dietary Reference Intake for Vitamin A

Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A

Upper Limit
0–6 mos 400 600
7–12 mos 500 600
1–3 300 600
4–8 400 900
9–13 600 1,700
14–18 male 900 2,800
14-18 female 700 2,800
≥ 19 male 900 3,000
> 19 female 700 3,000
≤ 18 750 2,800
19–50 770 3,000
≤ 18 1,200 2,800
19–50 1,300 3,000

The upper limit for vitamin A applies only to the retinol form (found in animal products, fortified foods, and supplements), but does not apply to carotenoids.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency symptoms begin with night blindness and can progress to more severe eye problems such as corneal ulcers, scarring, and blindness (1).

Vitamin A deficiency also reduces the ability to ward off infections.

Vitamin A is important for growth and development in infants and children, and for red blood cell formation.

Vitamin A Absorption

Eating vegetables high in carotenoids with some fat has been shown to increase both the absorption and synthesis of vitamin A (2).


Last updated November 2017

1. Vitamin A. Linus Pauling Institute. Accessed 1/25/2013.

2. Kopec RE, Cooperstone JL, Schweiggert RM, Young GS, Harrison EH, Francis DM, Clinton SK, Schwartz SJ. Avocado Consumption Enhances Human Postprandial Provitamin A Absorption and Conversion from a Novel High-β-Carotene Tomato Sauce and from Carrots. J Nutr. 2014 Aug;144(8):1158-66.

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3 thoughts on “Vitamin A

  • Reed Mangels

    Pumpkin contains beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids are fat-soluble. The plant sources of vitamin A in the table are carotenoids and are fat-soluble. As we note on this page, “eating vegetables high in carotenoids with some fat has been shown to increase both the absorption and synthesis of vitamin A (2).”

    • Reed Mangels

      Take another look at the table of Dietary Reference Intakes on this page – there are recommendations for those 19 years and older.