If you're looking to support your immune system, make sure you're getting enough vitamin A. Naturally present in many foods, vitamin A is known for keeping your vision sharp and your skin clear, but it is also a fantastic way to boost immunity.
Ahead, nutrition experts reveal vitamin A–rich foods and how to best prepare them so you can meet your daily requirements, and add some color to your diet.
Meet the Expert
According to the USDA, the recommended daily amount of vitamin A for women is 700 micrograms (mcg or µg). Respectively, the recommended daily amount of vitamin A for pregnant women is between 750 and 770 micrograms (mcg or µg), depending on age and trimester. Poon notes, "This community is advised to be cautious about their vitamin A consumption and avoid vitamin A containing supplements and foods such as liver." According to the USDA, the recommended daily amount of vitamin A for men is between 900 micrograms (mcg or µg). Finally, the USDA recommends between 300 and 700 micrograms (mcg or μg) for children depending on age and sex.
Poon explains that "these values are based on recommendations from the USDA. They could be different in areas where vitamin A deficiency is common."
It's critical that you avoid consuming too much vitamin A, as acute overdose might result in "nausea, vomiting, and vertigo," according to Poon. "Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and the excess gets stored in your liver, which makes it easier to overdose on fat-soluble vitamins (excess water-soluble vitamins are expelled through urine). If you consistently consume too much vitamin A, you might experience conditions such as liver damage, joint pain, or birth defects."
"Eating vitamin A–rich foods alongside fats, such as oils, dressings, or nuts, will make these fat-soluble vitamins more bioavailable to your body," says Poon.
When regulated, vitamin A can help you maintain a healthy diet, replete in immune-boosting properties. Read on for 10 foods naturally rich in vitamin A and serving suggestions, according to our nutrition experts.
A tasty and filling snack, cheese can help you reach your daily dose of vitamin A. Says Poon, "One slice of cheddar cheese contains about 6% of the daily recommended value for vitamin A. Cheese can serve as a filling snack or as a topping for soups and salads." Moderation is key, however. "I recommend eating cheese in moderation on account of its saturated fat content."
However, cheese is not for everyone. "While I occasionally enjoy a sharp cheddar or a scoop of ice cream," says Lee, "the proteins (casein) and sugars (lactose) in dairy may cause an upset stomach or inflammatory response. I know I can find excellent sources of nutrients like vitamin A elsewhere."
Poon is a fan of a garden scramble to kick-start your day. "One egg contains about 16% of the daily recommended value for vitamin A. I would recommend preparing your eggs in a garden scramble, with an array of fresh vegetables and herbs. This way you are consuming a wide variety of healthy phytonutrients."
Lee notes that some eggs are healthier than others. "Pasture-raised eggs contain even more vitamin A than their conventional counterparts," she notes. "At Provenance, we serve them many ways, from scrambled, poached, or baked for breakfast, to hard-boiled on salads for added vitamin A and high-quality bioavailable protein."
We know oily fish provide a trove of health benefits, including vitamin A. "One fillet of oily fish such as salmon or herring contains about 2–3% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A. These fish are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, anti-inflammatory compounds that support brain and cardiovascular health and would help increase bioavailability of vitamin A," says Poon. "Try these types of fish baked with an herb marinade."
Lee notes that the vitamin A found in fish can do wonders for your complexion. "Oily fish like wild salmon is a great source of fat-soluble vitamins A and D. Unlike plant-based sources, vitamin A in fatty fish comes ready-to-use in the form of retinol, important for hair growth and clear skin."
"Organ meats are a treasure trove of essential nutrients," says Lee. Some love it; others not so much. "Liver is a very high vitamin A food, so much so that pregnant women are advised to avoid it," explains Poon. "One ounce of chicken liver contains about 62% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A. This food is very rich and can be enjoyed in small amounts cooked and spread on seeded or whole grain crackers or toast."
Again, moderation is the best way to enjoy this delicacy. "Try incorporating the occasional liver påté or mousse into your diet for a delicious way to get in your vitamin A," says Lee.
If you're into dairy, milk can help get vitamin A into your diet. "One cup of whole milk contains about 5% of the daily recommended value for vitamin A," says Poon. For serving suggestions, Poon says, "Milk can be consumed by the glass or to add a creamier texture to foods like oatmeal or porridge. Some people find goat or sheep’s milk to be easier to digest than cow’s milk."
Remember when your mom told you to eat carrots to help your vision? "Carrots are famous for their eye-health benefits, which is due to their high beta-carotene content that the body converts to vitamin A," explains Lee. "Enjoy them raw with hummus, simply roasted with sea salt and olive oil, or simmered in soup."
Plus, according to Poon, "One carrot contains more than 200% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A, but in provitamin form. Vegetables and fruits are my favorite sources of vitamin A, because the amount of the potentially harmful vitamin is regulated. Roast carrots with hazelnuts and avocado oil for a delicious side dish that enhances fat-soluble vitamin absorption."
Lee is a big fan of this leafy green. "It's a great plant-based source of vitamin A," she says. When it comes to serving, she loves spinach for its versatility. "Use it to form the base of salads, wilt it into sauces, and blend it into smoothies."
According to Poon, "One cup of spinach contains 56% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A in the form of carotenoids," so you're on your way to boosting immunity with about one serving size. Plus, she says, "spinach has so many health benefits. This would be one of my personal favorite ways to consume vitamin A. Sauté spinach in avocado oil and garlic and eat as a delicious side dish or as a bed to your main dish."
A delicious and refreshing way to treat yourself to vitamin A is mango. "One cup of cubed mango provides about 25% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A," explains Poon. "Adding this tropical fruit to a smoothie with coconut oil will enhance vitamin absorption. Mango is best eaten when ripe, but frozen mango is an enticing option as well."
Lee, too, uses mango in her meal prep for its nutrient-rich sweetness. "Naturally sweet mango is high in beta-carotene that the body converts to vitamin A," she says. For a twist, she suggests sprinkling on some "lime and chili powder for a sweet and spicy snack."
Another tasty way to get your vitamin A in is by adding this delicious fruit to your smoothie game. "One cup of papaya contains about 31% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A," says Poon. "Papaya is one of my favorite fruits as it is delicious, provides an array of nutrients, and contains digestive enzymes that support gut health. Chop up papaya and combine with coconut slices and lime juice for a delicious treat that increases vitamin bioavailability."
Lee notes that "papaya's vibrant color is due to beta-carotene, which is particularly bioavailable in this fruit and converts to vitamin A." She also loves it for its digestive powers.
Rich in vitamin A, apricots can be enjoyed in various ways. "One apricot contains about 13% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A," says Poon. "Apricots are both delicious and fairly easy to find in most markets. Eat when ripe and combine with leafy greens, walnuts, and a light vinaigrette for a unique and satisfying salad or side dish."
Lee notes that apricots are particularly rich in fiber. She suggests eating them dried. "A handful of dried apricots are a great on-the-go snack."
Vitamin A supplementation: who, when and how. Community Eye Health. 2013;26(84):71.