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Vegans: Vitamin A Needs To Be On Your Radar

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Vitamin B12 is not the only nutrient to pay attention to for those eating a diet of entirely plant based foods!

Vitamin A (among others) is one you may not be getting enough of without proper planning.

Learn some sources of vitamin A in the vegan diet, why it might be difficult to get enough for some, and more in this Dietitian written article!

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for medical or dietary advice. Always talk to your doctor about any health concerns, if you want to make major dietary changes, or take a supplement. See our Disclaimers for more details.

What Is Vitamin A?

Those carrots aren’t just good for your eyes! Vitamin A is important several reasons including:

Vitamin A is an essential nutrient – meaning, we must consume an adequate amount as our bodies do not make enough on its own. If we don’t consume the right amount via diet or supplements, adverse side effects may occur.

Interesting knowledge nugget: Vitamin A is the umbrella term for a several types of fat soluble retinoids, such as retinol.

To make it a even a bit more complicated, we get our vitamin A via two sources in our diet: preformed vitamin A, and provitamin A carotenoids.

In order to understand what challenges vegans may have with vitamin A, we need to have a basic understanding of these two dietary forms, so stay with me!

Preformed Vitamin A

Graphic showing examples of preformed vitamin A food sources.
Graphic shows examples of preformed vitamin A food sources including (not a comprehensive list): beef liver, part skim ricotta cheese, fat free/skim milk with added preformed vitamin A, atlantic herring, cereals fortified with 10% the daily value of preformed vitamin A.

Examples of this type of vitamin A include retinol and retinyl ester.

The term “preformed” in this context refers to the active form.

This type of vitamin A is only found in animal sources, but is also in some supplements and fortified foods with vitamin A. For example, it may be listed as retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate.

Provitamin A

Picture of a Sweet Potato with Black Beans

Provitamin A is found in whole plant foods, like fruits and vegetables. It can also be found in supplements, typically listed as beta carotene.

Beta carotene is a common form of provitamin A. It gives fruits or vegetables a red to orange hue.

There’s one catch to beta carotene though: the body must undergo a conversion process to make active vitamin A out of beta carotene.

This is why beta carotene is actually better stated as a precursor to active vitamin A.

Have you seen and “RAE” value listed on a package of carrots?

The RAE is known as retinol activity equivalents. A measurement that takes many factors that are involved in the conversion process:

Here’s the conversion for beta-carotene:

1 IU (international unit) dietary beta-carotene = 0.05 mcg (micrograms) RAE

1 IU supplemental beta-carotene = 0.3 mcg RAE


How much do RAE’s do we need? Lets answer that next.

The RDA for vitamin A is measured in RAE as listed below:

Adult males (those aged 19 years and older) need 900 mcg RAE per day.

Adult females (19 years and older ) need 700 mcg RAE per day. Pregnant and lactating women need more. Find more Vitamin A RDAs for life stages here.

Is there any risk getting getting too much vitamin A? Lets talk about that next.

Vitamin A Toxicity

Adults aged 19 years and older should not consume over 3,000 mcg according to the UL (Upper Limit).

Getting too much preformed vitamin A can result in many adverse effects including (Disclaimer: this is not a comprehensive list):

Its important to note that beta carotene (the plant based precursor to vitamin A) is less likely to cause toxicity than preformed vitamin A.

Do Vegans Get Too Much Vitamin A?

At this time, we are not aware of large studies looking at specifically at vegans and vitamin A toxicity.

As noted already, vegan vitamin A primarily come from beta carotene which is less likely to cause toxicity than preformed vitamin A found in certain animal products and supplements.

Nonetheless, vegan preformed vitamin A supplements are available, and too much could cause health concerns.

Naturally, the next question you may have is about deficiencies in vegans. Lets discuss!

Vitamin A Deficiency

While rare in the US, vitamin A deficiency is more common in developing countries.

This deficiency can result in the loss of vision, that often begins with difficulty seeing in the dark. The eyes may become dry, and sores can appear.

Lacking vitamin A can result in health problems for infants and children as well.

Are Vegans Deficient in Vitamin A?

At this time, there is a limited amount of research on the subject of vitamin A deficiency in vegans.

One systematic review suggests that vegan diets are not related to vitamin A deficiency. That being said, we need more research on the subject.

One study suggests that about 45% of the certain individuals may not absorb as much beta carotene or convert it efficiently to active vitamin A. This can certainly pose a problem to vegans who may not consume preformed vitamin A.

Luckily, we’ve complied some tips for you to feel more confident about vitamin A as a vegan.

Vitamin A Vegan Style: Tips To Increase Your Daily Intake

How do vegans get enough vitamin A without eating the preformed version from animals source? Here are some tips:

1. Vegan Sources of Vitamin A (Beta Carotene): Get Familiar With Them!

Wondering where to find beta carotene (precursor to vitamin A) rich foods?

Here’s a list with amounts listed in Vitamin A RAE and rounded up (Disclaimer: this is not a comprehensive list of all vegan whole food sources of beta carotene):

As a reminder, the RDA for adult males (aged 19 years and older) is 900 mcg RAE, and 700 mcg RAE for adult females (aged 19 years and older who are non pregnant and non lactating).

Additionally, here’s what the Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets (Year: 2003) paper has to say:

“Vitamin A requirements can be met with the inclusion of three servings per day of deeply yellow or orange vegetables, leafy green vegetables, or fruits that are rich in beta carotene (apricots, cantaloupe, mango, pumpkin). n). Cooking increases beta carotene absorption, as does the addition of small amounts of fat to meals. Chopping and pureeing vegetables may also increase bioavailability.”


2. Eat Some Fat With Your Vegan Source of Vitamin A

Some research has shown that adding some fat to your provitamin A rich meal could enhance absorption and conversion to active vitamin A (as compared to eating it alone).

Some examples of healthier (we are talking: healthier than trans or saturated fat) fats you could add to your beta carotene rich meal include:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Tahini
  • Olives
  • Olive oil

3. Talk To Your Doctor About A Vegan Vitamin A Supplement If You Are Concerned

If you are concerned your not getting enough, absorbing enough, converting provitamin A sufficiently, or deficiency, talk to your doctor. He/she can help you determine if you need to consume a supplement with preformed vitamin A.

Remember, taking too much preformed vitamin A can be dangerous, so it is extremely important to get your doctors approval before taking supplements.

FYI: There are some vegan versions of preformed vitamin A, but you will have to read the label! Learn more about vegan vitamins in our post here (FYI: the Renzo’s Picky Eater Multi with Iron mentioned in the post does not use preformed vitamin A).

If your now wondering work more vegan whole food sources of beta carotene in your diet, prepare to be inspired in below!

Vegan Recipes Featuring Beta Carotene

Picture of Butternut Squash Fries

Now that you know it is possible to get vitamin A on a vegan diet, how can you incorporate beat carotene rich sources in your diet?

Never fear, Registered Dietitian written recipes are here! Get inspired by some beta carotene rich meals, sides, or snacks!

Did this post help you feel more confident about vegan nutrition? Do you have any other questions about vegan food rich in beta carotene? Leave us a comment below!

And while you are here, why not poke around on our blog? We go over topics like Vegan Iodine Sources
, What a Vegan with PCOS Should Know and lots more!

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