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What’s the Connection between Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene?


Fish is high in Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for normal vision, especially in the dark.  It is also important for immune function, reproduction and cell growth for proper development and maintenance of our skin and internal organs.

There are two types of vitamin A: preformed vitamin A and proformed vitamin A.  Preformed vitamin A – retinol is found only in animal products such as meat, poultry and some seafood.  Provitamin A – carotenoids are found only in plant foods.  Provitamin A carotenoids include alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and beta-carotene, which is the most important.  Our bodies have the ability to covert these plant pigments into vitamin A.  The main food sources of beta-carotene include dark green leafy vegetables, deep orange and yellow vegetables.  Some food sources of beta-carotene include apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, mangos, red peppers, spinach and tomatoes.


Foods rich in vitamin A

Vitamin A fortified foods are another source of dietary vitamin A.  Foods commonly fortified with vitamin A in the United States include breakfast cereals, breads, milk and some oils.  Most Americans get vitamin A by consuming fruits and vegetables that contain carotenoids and from vitamin A fortified foods such as dairy and select grain products.  Check the nutrition facts labels for details.

Since vitamin A is found in a variety of animal, plant and fortified foods, it is easy for most Americans to consume adequate amounts for good health.  It is not typically recommend to take vitamin A supplements because it is abundant in our food supply and is stored in the body.  Pregnant women particularly should avoid taking retinol supplements.

See the chart below for the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for vitamin A, which are expressed as Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAEs).

Life Stage                                  Vitamin A RAEs (mcg/day)

Males and females:
– 0-6 months                                          400
– 7-12 months                                         500
– 1 to 3 years                                           300
– 4 to 8 years                                          400
– 9 to 13 years                                        600

Males, ages 14 and older                    900
Females, ages 14 and older                700
Pregnancy                                              770*
Lactating                                             1,300

mcg = micrograms
* Pregnant women should not take preformed vitamin A supplements.
Source: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin A

Click here to see the UF/IFAS Extension’s fact sheet Facts about Vitamin A to learn more about vitamin A.