The term “vitamin A” is more complicated than you think. There are two dietary forms:
Preformed vitamin A, found in fish, eggs, dairy, and meat, doesn’t require conversion and is readily available and usable by the body.
Provitamin A carotenoids, found in plant foods, are converted by the body into retinol, the active form of vitamin A.
Beta-carotene is the primary provitamin A carotenoid. Unfortunately, the conversion process is highly inefficient, and only a small percentage of beta-carotene gets transformed into vitamin A. The process depends on a number of factors, especially healthy gut function and the presence of other nutrients including riboflavin, niacin, iron, zinc, and protein.
Not to say that’s entirely bad. Beta-carotene that’s not converted into vitamin A circulates through the body and acts as an antioxidant, protecting the cells from free radical damage, lowering inflammation, and reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases.
Are You Getting Enough Vitamin A?
Unless you’re a vegan, focus on getting preformed vitamin A in your diet from organ meats, beef, chicken, turkey, cheese, egg yolks, fish, and cod liver oil.
If you don’t eat animal products, make sure you’re getting plenty of beta-carotene in your diet. Focus on orange/red fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, apricots, cantaloupe, and red peppers. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and chard are also rich in beta-carotene. Eat them with fat to enhance absorption, and include cooked varieties—some research suggests that cooking fruits and vegetables increases their content of beta carotene. Try these tricks for getting more carotenoids in your diet: