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