Vitamin A is probably most known for maintaining healthy vision, but there's more to this nutrient than meets the eye.
There are two types of vitamin A, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
- Preformed vitamin A: found in animal products, such as meat, poultry, seafood and dairy
- Provitamin A: found in plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables. The most common type of provitamin A is one you're likely familiar with: beta-carotene.
So what is vitamin A good for? Beta-carotene is a carotenoid (plant pigment) that gives foods, like carrots or tomatoes, an orange or red color. On its own, it's a powerful antioxidant, per the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
The liver processes beta-carotene into vitamin A, which supports healthy vision and a strong immune system, plays a role in reproduction and helps your organs work properly, according to the NIH.
How Much Vitamin A Do You Need?
Your A intake is counted in micrograms of retinol activity equivalents, or RAE, a measure of the content and activity of vitamin A in foods. Adults assigned female at birth need 700 micrograms of RAE of vitamin A per day while adults assigned male at birth need 900 micrograms of RAE per day.
Read on for a list of foods in high vitamin A that, yes, are good for your eyes — and a whole lot more. Note that the FDA's Daily Value (DV) percentages are based on eating 900 micrograms of RAE of vitamin A per day.
1. Sweet Potato: 1,922 mcg RAE, 214% DV
Sweet potatoes provide 215 percent of the DV for vitamin A per 1 cup cooked as well as complex carbohydrates needed for energy and nearly a quarter of your daily needs for fiber.
Because vitamin A is fat-soluble (like vitamins D, E and K), it's important to make sure you're getting enough fat in your diet to help your body absorb the nutrient. So pair your baked sweet potato with cheese or chili, two fat-rich foods that help your body absorb the vitamin A in the potato (and they tastes great, too). One medium baked sweet potato contains 122 percent of the DV for vitamin A.
2. Carrots: 1,329 mcg RAE, 148% DV
What's up, Doc? Bugs Bunny must have 20/20 vision thanks to his love for crunchy carrots. The root vegetable is known for being eye-healthy, and that's thanks to its beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A.
3. Butternut Squash: 1,144 mcg RAE, 127% DV
Butternut squash, another orange vegetable, provides 127 percent of the DV for vitamin A per cup cooked as well as fiber and vitamin C.
And remember, pairing it with a fat source can help you absorb more A, so adding butter to your butternut squash might not be such a bad idea. You can also try one of these protein-rich butternut squash dishes.
4. Spinach: 943.2 mcg RAE, 105% DV
We talked about Bugs Bunny and now we're on to Popeye the Sailor Man. Bugs loves carrots and Popeye loves spinach — both for good reason.
Cooked spinach provides 105 percent of the DV for vitamin A per cup cooked, as well as 740 percent (!) of the DV for vitamin K — another fat-soluble vitamin — and good amounts of fiber, potassium and plant-based iron.
5. Mustard Greens: 865.2 mcg RAE, 96% DV
Related to kale, cabbage and collard greens (but less bitter), mustard greens are a nutritious leafy green that can help you get vitamin A naturally: 1 cup cooked packs 96 percent of the DV.
Like other leafy greens, mustard greens are also incredibly high in vitamin K. They sautee well with olive oil, salt and pepper.
6. Collard Greens: 722 mcg RAE, 80% DV
Speaking of collard greens, 1 cup of cooked collards contains 80 percent of the DV for vitamin A. Collard greens are also a good source of calcium and provide plant-based iron.
While collard greens are similar in nutrition to other leafy greens, like spinach and kale, they can be a welcome change in cooking: Just try one of these antioxidant-rich collard greens recipes.
7. Hubbard Squash: 686.7 mcg RAE, 76% DV
You might have seen a Hubbard squash at your local farmers' market or produce bin but instead picked up an acorn or butternut squash. Hubbard squash, which, yes, looks a little like a decorative gourd, packs a nutritional punch.
A 1-cup serving of cooked squash has 76 percent of the DV for vitamin A. Like other squash varieties, Hubbard also provides fiber, vitamin C and potassium.
8. Swiss Chard: 535.5 mcg RAE, 60% DV
If you're still looking for leafy greens that aren't spinach and kale, enter Swiss chard. This leafy green is popular among CSA (community-supported agriculture) bounties.
A 1-cup serving of cooked Swiss chard contains 60 percent of the DV for vitamin A. Swiss chard also provides a good amount of magnesium, important for bone health, and vitamins C, E and K.
No matter the leafy green you prefer, eating one serving per day has been linked with slower age-related cognitive decline, according to a January 2018 study published in Neurology.
9. Winter Squash: 535.1 mcg RAE, 59% DV
Like leafy greens, all sorts of squash varieties provide similar nutrition when it comes to vitamin A. Just 1 cup of cooked winter squash offers 59 percent of the DV.
Winter squash, in fact, isn't just one type of squash: The term encompasses several different varieties, including butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash and pumpkins. As you might have guessed, these squashes are harvested in the winter versus their summer squash sisters.
10. Cantaloupe Melon: 299.1 mcg RAE, 33% DV
Cantaloupe melon is orange thanks to, yep, you guessed it: beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. It's a fruit rich in vitamin A, packing 33 percent of the DV in a 1-cup serving.
Melon, like cantaloupe, is also a good source of vitamin C and potassium. Top your yogurt with cantaloupe melon for a bit of fat to help your body absorb the vitamin A.
11. Clams: 290.7 mcg RAE, 32% DV
Though small, clams are very nutritious: Per 6-ounce serving, cooked clams give you 32 percent of the DV for vitamin A and an incredible 7,005 percent of the DV for vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is water-soluble, which means your body doesn't store it and instead urinates it out, and there aren't any ill effects associated with high intakes, especially from the diet, per the Mayo Clinic.
12. Red Bell Peppers: 233.9 mcg RAE, 26% DV
Fresh red bell peppers add a nutritious crunch to your snacks, salads and sandwiches. Per 1-cup serving, they provide 26 percent of the DV for vitamin A and 211 percent of the DV for vitamin C.
While red bell peppers contain higher levels of vitamins A and C than their green sisters, all bell peppers are good sources of fiber and water, making them a hydrating veggie.
13. Romaine Lettuce: 204.9 mcg RAE, 23% DV
For those who prefer Romaine lettuce to spinach or kale, the salad favorite does provide some nutrition (plus plenty of water). A 1-cup serving contains 23 percent of the DV for vitamin A and 40 percent of the DV for vitamin K.
Lettuces like iceberg and Romaine are also a good source of water, which makes them perfect for summer salads.
14. Apricots: 177.2 mcg RAE, 20% DV
Apricots are another fruit rich in vitamin A with 17 percent of the DV for vitamins A and C per cup as well as potassium, which is important for healthy muscle function.
And dried fruit makes for a tasty, nutritious mix-in to your favorite nut-based trail mix. Per 1 ounce, dried apricots provide 20 percent of the DV for vitamin A as well as fiber and quick-acting carbs for energy.
Dried fruits are higher in sugar than their fresh counterparts because their sugar is more concentrated, so make sure to stick to just one serving a day.
15. Pink Grapefruit: 133.4 mcg RAE, 15% DV
This tart citrus fruit is a refreshing summer favorite that delivers 15 percent of the DV for vitamin A and 80 percent of the DV for vitamin C per 1-cup serving. Grapefruit juice also provides a bit of vitamin A — 4 percent of the DV per 1 cup, but fruit juice should be limited due to its high sugar content.
Pink grapefruit contains about 30 times more vitamin A than its white counterpart.
16. Broccoli: 120.1 mcg RAE, 13% DV
Broccoli, a cruciferous veggie, provides a variety of nutrients, including vitamin A — 13 percent of the DV per cup cooked — 112 percent of the DV for vitamin C and 183 percent of the DV for vitamin K.
Before you poo-poo the idea of eating broccoli because you can't stand it steamed, there are several delicious ways to cook it, including roasted with salt and pepper, sauteed in a stir-fry and grilled.
17. Zucchini: 100.8 mcg RAE, 11% DV
Summer squash, like zucchini, provides similar nutrition to its winter cousins. However, zucchini contains less vitamin A — 11 percent of the DV per 1-cup, cooked — than winter squashes.
Zucchini is a good source of water, making it a hydrating veggie, and also provides vitamin C.
18. Mangoes: 89.1 mcg RAE, 10% DV
This sweet, juicy fruit is rich in flavor and nutrients, including vitamin A with 10 percent of the DV per 1-cup and vitamin C with 67 percent of the DV.
While mangoes do provide important nutrients, they're also very high in sugar with nearly half of your DV. If you're trying to manage your sugar intake, enjoy mangos in moderation and choose lower-sugar fruit like strawberries more often.
19. Asparagus: 90 mcg RAE, 10% DV
You may have heard that eating asparagus might cause stinky pee. While that might be true for some people, it doesn't take away from the nutrition it offers (plus, there's nothing wrong if your urine does smell after eating asparagus).
A 1-cup serving provides 10 percent of the DV for vitamin A, 102 percent of the DV for vitamin C and nearly 200 percent of the DV for vitamin K. Toss it on the grill or eat raw in your favorite salad.
20. Cherry Tomatoes: 62.6 mcg RAE, 7% DV
Bright red, juicy, nutritious and bite-sized, cherry tomatoes are the perfect snack or salad topper. Tomatoes provide a powerful antioxidant, lycopene, which has been linked to a lower risk of stroke, per an October 2012 study in Neurology.
When it comes to vitamin A, 1 cup of cherry tomatoes provides 7 percent of the DV, as well as nearly a quarter of your daily need for vitamin C.
21. Brussels Sprouts: 60.8 mcg RAE, 7% DV
Brussels sprouts, a Thanksgiving favorite (for some, anyway), are a low-calorie veggie with a host of good-for-you nutrients. Per 1-cup cooked, Brussels sprouts have 7 percent of the DV for vitamin A, 107 percent of the DV for vitamin C and 182 percent of the DV for vitamin K.
Try these unique recipes for Brussels sprouts — none of which are roasted.
22. Guava: 51.2 mcg RAE, 6% DV
While this tropical fruit boasts 419 percent (!) of the DV for vitamin C per 1-cup serving, and it also contains 6 percent of the DV for vitamin A and 32 percent of the DV for fiber, making it a refreshing, nutritious snack or yogurt topper.