Vitamin A is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that has numerous vital functions in the body.
This guide will firstly examine the top twenty foods high in preformed vitamin A (retinol).
Following this, we will look at the best food sources of carotenoids and the key differences between retinol and carotenoids.
These foods are the very best sources of the vitamin according to the USDA Nutrient Composition Database.
Types of Vitamin A
- The first is by consuming animal foods that contain retinol, which is sometimes known as “preformed vitamin A.” Retinol is a highly bioavailable form of vitamin A, and our body can instantly utilize it.
- We can also get something called “provitamin A” from carotenoids in plant foods such as carrots and sweet potatoes. Our body needs to convert carotenoids into retinol before we can use them.
Pre-formed Vitamin A (Retinol) vs. Provitamin A (Carotenoids)
Unfortunately, the rate of conversion of carotenoids to retinol can be low and variable in humans.
As a result, plant foods do not offer the same bioavailability as animal food sources of vitamin A (2).
That said, some plant foods do offer significant amounts of carotenoids, so they can still be a valuable source of the vitamin.
Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE) and the Vitamin A Daily Value
Since retinol and carotenoids do not offer the same bioavailability, the FDA recently mandated a new way of measuring the vitamin A content of food.
This measurement is called the retinol activity equivalent (RAE), which takes the low bioavailability of carotenoids into account.
These new guidelines state that 1 microgram (mcg) of retinol activity equivalent (RAE) is equivalent to (3);
- 1 mcg retinol (found in animal foods)
- 12 mcg beta-carotene (the most predominant carotenoid in plant foods)
- 24 mcg other carotenoids (such as alpha-carotene)
In other words, retinol is deemed to be approximately 12x to 24x more valuable as a vitamin A source than carotenoids.
Recommended Daily Intake
For adult males, the recommended daily allowance for vitamin A is 900 mcg RAE and for females, it is 700 mcg RAE (4).
Top 20 Foods High In Vitamin A (Retinol)
Here are the very best sources of vitamin A.
1) Cod Liver Oil
|Cod Liver Oil||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per teaspoon serving||1350 mcg RAE||150 %|
|Per 100 grams||30,000 mcg RAE||3333 %|
While not technically a food, cod liver oil contains substantial amounts of vitamin A.
With this oil, just a single teaspoon delivers a concentrated serving of the vitamin equivalent to 150% of the daily value (5).
However, that’s not all – cod liver oil also supplies a significant amount of vitamin D and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
2) Duck Liver
|Duck Liver||Amount||% Daily Value|
|4 oz (113 g) serving||13541 mcg RAE||1505 %|
|Per 100 grams||11984 mcg RAE||1332 %|
Duck liver contains an enormous amount of vitamin A in the form of retinol, and a 4 oz serving provides 1505% of the daily intake value (6).
3) Lamb Liver
|Lamb Liver||Amount||% Daily Value|
|4 oz (113 g) serving||8352 mcg RAE||928 %|
|Per 100 grams||7391 mcg RAE||821 %|
Liver is one of the richest sources of vitamin A out of all foods. Furthermore, it’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world.
Per 4 oz serving, raw lamb liver supplies approximately 928% of the recommended intake for vitamin A (7).
Don’t like liver?
Here are a couple of ideas;
- Fry some liver and onions; use butter, some herbs of your choice, and a touch of tamari soy sauce and red wine. Add some onions and garlic, and you have a delicious meal.
- Make some liver and bacon pate; using a food processor you only need three ingredients – butter, liver, and bacon. After forming a consistent paste, store the pate in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
4) Turkey Liver
|Turkey Liver||Amount||% Daily Value|
|4 oz (113 g) serving||9106 mcg RAE||1012 %|
|Per 100 grams||8058 mcg RAE||895 %|
Since liver is such a significant source of retinol, several different liver products top this list.
Following lamb and duck liver is turkey liver, and per 4 oz serving it offers 1012% of the daily value (8).
5) Beef Liver
|Beef Liver||Amount||% Daily Value|
|4 oz (113 g) serving||5614 mcg RAE||624 %|
|Per 100 grams||4968 mcg RAE||552 %|
Although it isn’t quite as high in retinol as some varieties of liver, beef liver still contains substantial concentrations of vitamin A.
Based on a 4-oz serving, beef liver offers around 624% of the recommended intake (9).
Although other varieties of liver (such as chicken and pork) are also significant sources of vitamin A, we will now move on to look at different types of food.
|Liverwurst||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per cup (55 g) serving||2250 mcg RAE||250 %|
|Per 100 grams||4091 mcg RAE||455 %|
If you don’t know what liverwurst is, then it is a unique German type of “sausage” that contains a mix of ingredients.
Typically, liverwurst is made from liver, kidneys and other meat, pork fat, and a variety of seasonings.
Since it is a large source of organ meat, liverwurst also offers a high amount of vitamin A, and it provides approximately 250% of the recommended intake per serving (10).
|Eel||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per fillet (204 g) serving||2128 mcg RAE||236 %|
|Per 100 grams||1043 mcg RAE||116 %|
Eel is a unique type of fish with a shape that resembles a snake.
Although eel is not a common food in the Western world, it is very nutritious, and it is a key part of the cuisine in Japan and other East Asian countries.
It is also very rich in vitamin A, and a typical eel fillet supplies around 236% of the daily value for the nutrient (11).
|Ghee||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per tbsp (12.8 g) serving||108 mcg RAE||12 %|
|Per 100 grams||840 mcg RAE||93 %|
Ghee is a delicious and concentrated source of butterfat, and it is an excellent source of fat-soluble vitamins.
Per tablespoon, ghee supplies approximately 12% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin A (12).
However, remember that the serving size for ghee is generally small, so the amount of vitamin A in ‘100 grams’ is slightly deceiving.
Among its other uses, ghee is a perfect fit for cooking Indian-style curries.
|Butter||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per tbsp (14.8 g) serving||97 mcg RAE||11 %|
|Per 100 grams||684 mcg RAE||76 %|
Slightly behind ghee, regular butter is also rich in retinol, and it provides around 11% of the recommended intake per tablespoon (13).
Ghee offers slightly higher amounts since it doesn’t contain casein, lactose or moisture.
As a cooking fat, butter can enhance the flavor of various foods, and if you’re cooking carotenoid-containing vegetables, then it can also help increase the bioavailability.
10) Tuna (Bluefin)
|Bluefin Tuna||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per 6 oz (170 g) serving||1114 mcg RAE||124 %|
|Per 100 grams||655 mcg RAE||73 %|
All varieties of tuna offer a good nutrition profile, and the fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, B vitamins, and vitamin A.
For instance, a 6-oz fillet of bluefin tuna offers around 125% of the recommended daily value for vitamin A (14).
On the negative side, bluefin tuna tends to be relatively high in mercury compared to other types of fish.
11) Hard Goat’s Cheese
|Goat Cheese||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per oz (28 g) ||138 mcg RAE||15 %|
|Per 100 grams||486 mcg RAE||54 %|
All cheese is delicious, but hard and crumbly goat’s cheese offers a strong and flavorful taste.
This cheese works well as in combination with a wide range of foods from meat to fruit and nuts. For any wine lovers, it also makes a great pairing with a glass of wine.
Aged goat cheese offers around 15% of the recommended intake for vitamin A per ounce serving (17).
12) Beef Kidney
|Beef Kidney||Amount||% Daily Value|
|4 oz (113 g) Serving||473 mcg RAE||53 %|
|Per 100 grams||419 mcg RAE||47 %|
Similar to liver, kidney is also a significant source of retinol.
While beef kidney is one of the best sources, other varieties like lamb and pork kidney are also high in the vitamin.
Per 4 oz serving, beef kidney supplies just over half of the daily value (53%) for preformed vitamin A (18).
13) Cheddar Cheese
|Cheddar||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Slice (28 g) ||74 mcg RAE||8 %|
|Per 100 grams||263 mcg RAE||29 %|
Goat cheese isn’t the only good option for vitamin A, and regular cow cheese can be an excellent source too.
Cheddar is one of the world’s most famous cheese varieties, and it is also moderately high in vitamin A.
One average slice contains around 8% of the recommended vitamin A intake (19).
|Sturgeon||Amount||% Daily Value|
|5 oz (140 g) Serving||178 mcg RAE||20 %|
|Per 100 grams||210 mcg RAE||23 %|
Sturgeon is a very large species of fish that primarily lives in freshwater in Eurasia and North America.
Interestingly, the sturgeon family of fish is said to be up to 245 million years old, making it one of the oldest species on earth.
Sturgeon is also fairly nutritious, and it offers a good amount of vitamin A, with a 5-ounce serving providing around 20% of the recommended daily intake (20).
|Eggs||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per egg (50 g) ||80 mcg RAE||9 %|
|Per 100 grams||160 mcg RAE||18 %|
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods in the average diet, and they provide almost every essential vitamin and mineral in varying proportions.
Interestingly, eggs are a good source of both retinol and carotenoids. Among the many nutrients they offer, eggs contain two carotenoids with potential antioxidant properties called lutein and zeaxanthin (21).
The average large-sized egg provides 9% of the daily value for vitamin A (22).
If you want a larger amount of the vitamin, try making a three-egg omelet with a bit of cheese — it’s a cheap and easy but nutritious meal.
|Clams||Amount||% Daily Value|
|3 oz (85 g) Serving||76 mcg RAE||8 %|
|Per 100 grams||90 mcg RAE||10 %|
Clams are one of the most nutritious foods we can eat – whether from the land or sea.
These little shellfish offer a varied range of nutrients in high amounts, and they are an especially good source of iron and vitamin B12 (23).
Regarding their vitamin A content, clams offer around 10% of the reference daily amount per 100 grams (24).
17) Fish Roe
|Fish Roe||Amount||% Daily Value|
|3 oz (85 g) Serving||76 mcg RAE||8 %|
|Per 100 grams||90 mcg RAE||10 %|
Fish roe is loaded with all kinds of nutrients from essential vitamins and minerals to protein and omega-3. The only problem is that roe tends to be expensive in the Western world.
These little fish eggs are also a good provider of retinol, and they offer the same amount of the vitamin as clams – approximately 10% of the daily intake per 100 grams (25).
For anyone wondering how to eat roe, you can find some recipe ideas here.
18) Mackerel (Atlantic)
|Mackerel||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Fillet (112 g) Serving||56 mcg RAE||6 %|
|Per 100 grams||50 mcg RAE||6 %|
Atlantic mackerel is somewhat ignored as a source of omega-3 compared to more popular fish such as sardines, salmon and tuna.
However, mackerel is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and it offers significant amounts of vitamins and minerals too.
Per typical fillet serving, mackerel provides 6% of the daily allowance for vitamin A (26).
|Cisco||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Fillet (79 g) Serving||24 mcg RAE||3 %|
|Per 100 grams||30 mcg RAE||3 %|
Cisco is a large type of salmonid fish that lives in the waters of North America. This fish is a good source of protein, omega-3, selenium, and B vitamins.
Additionally, cisco also contains vitamin A, but in relatively small amounts – a typical fillet offers 3% of the daily value for the vitamin (27).
|Herring||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Fillet (184 g) Serving||52 mcg RAE||6 %|
|Per 100 grams||28 mcg RAE||3 %|
Herring is a nutritious oily fish that is low in mercury, and it also offers one of the best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids (28).
This oily fish contains a moderate vitamin A content too, with a standard fillet providing around 6% of the recommended daily amount (29).
The Best Food Sources of Carotenoids
Here are some of the best plant-based sources of provitamin A (carotenoids).
1) Grape Leaves
|Grape Leaves||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (14 g) Serving||193 mcg RAE||21 %|
|Per 100 grams||1376 mcg RAE||153 %|
Not many people are familiar with them, but the leaves from grapevines are a nutritious leafy green vegetable.
These grape leaves are especially popular in Eastern European and Middle Eastern cuisine, and they offer substantial amounts of carotenoids.
In fact, just 100 grams contains more than 150% of the recommended daily value for vitamin A (30).
Grape leaves are available either fresh (at certain points of the year) or pickled in a brine solution.
|Carrots||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Medium Carrot (61 g)||509 mcg RAE||57 %|
|Per 100 grams||835 mcg RAE||93 %|
The bright orange color of carrots is down to their substantial concentration of carotenoids.
For a regular medium-sized carrot, you can expect to get around 57% of the daily intake for retinol-equivalent vitamin A (31).
3) Sweet Potato
|Sweet Potato||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (133 g) Serving||943 mcg RAE||105 %|
|Per 100 grams||709 mcg RAE||79 %|
The orange flesh of sweet potatoes gives away the beta-carotene content, and they offer 105% of the recommended intake of retinol equivalent vitamin A (32).
4) Turnip Greens
|Turnip Greens||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (55 g) Serving||318 mcg RAE||35 %|
|Per 100 grams||579 mcg RAE||64 %|
Turnip greens are a dark green cruciferous vegetable, and they are packed with nutrients.
Among these, they are a particularly good source of vitamins C and K, and they provide a good source of provitamin A.
5) Butternut Squash
|Butternut Squash||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (140 g) Serving||745 mcg RAE||83 %|
|Per 100 grams||532 mcg RAE||59 %|
Butternut squash is a light and slightly sweet type of winter squash that resembles a pumpkin in appearance.
This vegetable is quite tasty, and it can be boiled, mashed, roasted, or used in soups and stews.
Butternut squash is rich in carotenoids, and if offers 83% of the daily value for vitamin A per cup (34).
6) Dandelion Greens
|Dandelion Greens||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (55 g) Serving||279 mcg RAE||31 %|
|Per 100 grams||508 mcg RAE||56 %|
Dandelions greens are a rather bitter tasting leafy green, particularly in their raw state.
However, they are full of nutrients, and they are especially high in carotenoids and vitamin K1.
Per cup serving, dandelion greens contain equivalent to 31% of the daily value for vitamin A (35).
|Spinach||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (30 g) Serving||141 mcg RAE||16 %|
|Per 100 grams||469 mcg RAE||52 %|
Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables, and it is an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
This leafy green is also high in provitamin A, and per cup serving it has a retinol activity equivalent to 16% of the recommended vitamin A intake (36).
8) Romaine Lettuce
|Romaine Lettuce||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (47 g) Serving||205 mcg RAE||23 %|
|Per 100 grams||436 mcg RAE||48 %|
Romaine lettuce is a popular salad vegetable, and it has a crisp and refreshing taste.
Per regular serving, this leafy green supplies almost a quarter of the daily recommended vitamin A equivalent (37).
|Pumpkin||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (116 g) Serving||494 mcg RAE||55 %|
|Per 100 grams||426 mcg RAE||47 %|
Pumpkins are one of the most versatile vegetables and people use them for soups, stews, desserts and even Halloween decorations.
Once again, the bright orange appearance of pumpkin rightly suggests it will be a concentrated source of carotenoids.
A regular cup serving provides slightly over half of the recommended daily value for vitamin A (38).
10) Red Lettuce Leaf
|Red Lettuce Leaf||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (28 g) Serving||105 mcg RAE||12 %|
|Per 100 grams||375 mcg RAE||42 %|
Red leaf lettuce looks similar to regular green leaf lettuce, but it has red tinges on the end of its leaves.
While not the biggest lettuce source of carotenoids, red leaf lettuce still offers a fair amount, and a cup serving provides 12% of the vitamin A daily value (39).
11) Green Leaf Lettuce
|Green Lettuce Leaf||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (28 g) Serving||103 mcg RAE||11 %|
|Per 100 grams||370 mcg RAE||41 %|
With very nearly as much carotenoid content as the red version, green leaf lettuce offers 11% of the recommended intake for vitamin A per cup (40).
12) Cress (‘Garden Cress’)
|Garden Cress||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (50 g) Serving||173 mcg RAE||19 %|
|Per 100 grams||346 mcg RAE||38 %|
Garden cress provides around 19% of the recommended retinol equivalent vitamin A per cup serving (41).
In addition to the vitamin A content, cress is high in a wide range of nutrients, and it offers well over 100% of the RDI for vitamin C and K1 (42).
13) Beet Greens
|Beet Greens||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (38 g) Serving||120 mcg RAE||13 %|
|Per 100 grams||316 mcg RAE||35 %|
Beet greens are another leafy green—and nutrient-dense—vegetable, and they provide around 13% of the vitamin A daily value per cup (43).
These leaves can taste a little bitter in their raw form, but they taste good with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Quickly pan-frying them in a bit of butter works well too.
14) Swiss Chard
|Swiss Chard||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (36 g) Serving||110 mcg RAE||12 %|
|Per 100 grams||306 mcg RAE||34 %|
Swiss chard tastes similar to beet greens and it offers a similar concentration of vitamin A too.
Per cup serving, swiss chard offers 12% of the daily intake for the vitamin (44).
15) Collard Greens
|Collard Greens||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (36 g) Serving||90 mcg RAE||10 %|
|Per 100 grams||251 mcg RAE||28 %|
Collard greens are high in vitamin A and K1, and a cup serving supplies approximately 10% of the daily value for vitamin A (45).
Collards also offer a good range of nutrients, and this includes large amounts of vitamin C and folate.
|Kale||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (21 g) Serving||51 mcg RAE||6 %|
|Per 100 grams||241 mcg RAE||27 %|
Kale contains a significant amount of beta-carotene, and a cup serving provides 51 mcg of retinol equivalent activity (46).
This dark cruciferous vegetable also provides a substantial supply of vitamin C.
Cooking kale with a bit of butter significantly improves the taste and helps to improve the absorption of vitamin A too.
17) Bok Choy (Chinese Cabbage)
|Bok Choy||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (70 g) Serving||156 mcg RAE||17 %|
|Per 100 grams||223 mcg RAE||25 %|
Bok choy is a traditional Chinese vegetable (otherwise known as Chinese cabbage) that is popular around the world.
Additionally, it is an excellent source of vitamin A, and a cup serving supplies around 17% of the recommended daily intake (47).
18) Cantaloupe Melon
|Cantaloupe Melon||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (156 g) Serving||264 mcg RAE||17 %|
|Per 100 grams||169 mcg RAE||25 %|
Vegetables aren’t the only source of carotenoids, and some varieties of fruit can be rich in them too.
On this note, a cup of cantaloupe melon offers approximately 17% of the recommended intake per day (48).
|Watercress||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (34 g) Serving||54 mcg RAE||6 %|
|Per 100 grams||160 mcg RAE||18 %|
Just like regular garden cress, watercress is a good source of vitamin A too; per 100 grams, watercress offers around 18% of the daily value (49).
20) Mustard Greens
|Mustard Greens||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Per Cup (56 g) Serving||85 mcg RAE||9 %|
|Per 100 grams||151 mcg RAE||17 %|
More leafy greens, and more provitamin A; mustard greens offer a retinol-equivalent amount of vitamin A of around 85 mcg RAE per cup.
This amount equals 9% of the recommended intake (50).
Carotenoid To Retinol Conversion Rates Vary and Are Unreliable
Lastly, it is worth noting that the efficiency at which our body can convert carotenoids to true vitamin A (retinol) greatly varies.
Therefore, the retinol activity equivalent (RAE) rates for carotenoid foods are best estimates.
For example, researchers estimate that the carotenoid to retinol conversion efficiency could be as low as 3.6:1 or as high as 28:1.
These differences may depend on several different factors including the specific food, overall diet composition, and the individual and their genes (51).
Furthermore, a significant number of individuals with a specific gene (BCM01) mutation have impaired ability to convert carotenoids into retinol (52).
As shown in this guide, there are numerous animal and plant foods high in vitamin A.
Due to the unreliable conversion of provitamin A into retinol, animal foods like liver and oily fish are probably the optimal choice.
However, fruit and vegetable sources of vitamin A are still beneficial to health.
Just be sure to eat them with a little fat to help increase the vitamin’s bioavailability.
For more on vitamins, see this in-depth guide to vitamin E.