We need a regular intake of Vitamin A in our diet for all sorts of healthy bodily functions. Vitamin A helps to keep our skin healthy, it boosts our immune system, and best of all, it can even help us to see in the dark. But for plant eaters, what are the best vegan sources of Vitamin A?
Traditionally, meat, eggs, fish, and dairy products have all been the recommended sources of Vitamin A, but for vegans, none of these food categories are even remotely acceptable. Luckily, though, there are a huge number of fruits and vegetables that can meet your daily Vitamin A intake needs.
In today’s article, we take a look at the best plant-based vegan sources of Vitamin A. Here’s how to get Vitamin A into your vegan diet!
What is Vitamin A?
Ahh, the old vegan diet. As plant-based eaters, we always seem to be worrying about where we’re going to get the next vitamins from. First, it’s protein, then it’s fat (read this article for more information on vegan fat sources), and now it’s come around to Vitamin A.
As with proteins and fats, though, it turns out there’s nothing to be worrying about at all (it’s all meat and dairy propaganda!). So many plant-based foods have huge quantities of Vitamin A to offer and are super-easy to include in your diet.
But there’s a reason we do worry about these things when we switch to a new diet, despite the fact that a vegan diet does easily meet all our nutritional requirements. Like protein and fat, Vitamin A is essential for day-to-day bodily functions. We literally need Vitamin A to survive (and we aren’t being dramatic when we say that).
Vitamin A is classed as an essential nutrient. Interestingly, there are, in fact, two major varieties of Vitamin A that our bodies can process. Preformed Vitamin A and Provitamin A. Perhaps more interestingly, Preformed Vitamin A is derived from animal products, while Provitamin A comes from plant-based foods.
Preformed Vitamin A
Preformed Vitamin A is also known as ‘Retinol’. This type of Vitamin A is what we’ve been traditionally told is the ‘correct’ form of Vitamin A to take, but that’s just because it’s sourced from animal products.
Preformed Vitamin A commonly finds its way into diets through eggs, cheese, milk, and yogurt. Intriguingly, though, our bodies are unable to properly regulate how much Preformed Vitamin A is able to be processed, and it’s more dangerous in large quantities than plant-based Vitamin A.
Provitamin A is essentially the vegan Vitamin A. Rather than being found in animal products, Provitamin A is derived from plant-based Vitamin A foods.
Provitamin A is also more commonly known as a carotenoid, and carotenoids are found in fruits and vegetables (carrots, for instance). There are several types of carotenoids, with beta carotene being the most widely available. The body converts beta carotene and other carotenoids into retinoids.
What is Vitamin A good for?
So now we know what Vitamin A is, you’re probably wondering why it’s such an essential component of vegan nutrition (and non-vegan nutrition, too). What does Vitamin A do?
Carotenoids (our favorite source of beta carotene) are actually the reason that carrots (and other fruits and veg) have yellow or orange colorings, but this fun fact isn’t the reason why humans need to ensure they eat enough Vitamin A rich foods.
Vitamin A (in all its form, whether that’s Preformed or beta carotene Vitamin A) are needed for a healthy immune system. It’s essential for keeping our bodies healthy and able to fight off unwanted viruses, illnesses, or infections.
Beta carotene is an antioxidant, and this property helps to protect our body’s cells from being damaged. In this respect, beta carotene also works towards keeping our skin looking and feeling healthy.
Most famous, however, is the fact that beta carotene is responsible for helping us to see in the dark. Beta carotene helps to repair cells in our eyes and helps them to function efficiently. This is why there’s some truth in the saying that carrots help us to see in the dark because carrots are stuffed full of beta carotene!
How much Vitamin A do we need?
For a healthy, functioning body, vegans need to keep their beta carotene levels topped up. A Vitamin A deficiency can lead to weakened immune systems, and you’ll be more susceptible to illness. Signs of a vegan diet vitamin deficiency also include rashes, dry skin, or impaired vision.
To avoid a Vitamin A deficiency, then men need to consume 0.7 milligrams a day of Vitamin A. Women need a Vitamin A daily intake of 0.6 milligrams. Given how widespread Vitamin A plant sources are, it’s rare that you wouldn’t fill this requirement through your normal diet.
In fact, it’s not a vitamin A deficiency you should be worried about if you eat a healthy, balanced diet; it’s too much Vitamin A that’s not good for our health!
How much Vitamin A is too much?
We already mentioned earlier in the article that our bodies can struggle to process too much retinol, the form of Vitamin A that is sourced from animal products. That was an understatement. Too much retinol can be deadly.
Medical advice warns large quantities of retinol can lead to dangerous birth defects if pregnant women consume too much. Too much retinol can weaken the bones over many years, too, leading to complications in older generations that have been brought up on fish- and meat-heavy diets.
But how much is too much? It’s estimated that consuming more than 1.5 milligrams of Vitamin A per day is dangerous. Importantly, though, we are talking about retinol, or the animal-derived Vitamin A. This also stands true for Vitamin A supplements, which are not recommended.
A betacarotene overdose from eating too many carrots is much rarer, as our bodies can better regulate this type of Vitamin A.
Popular plant-based sources of Vitamin A
The reality is that even non-vegans should be seeking out fruit and veg as a good source of vitamin A, rather than taking supplements or overdosing on dairy products!
But what foods are high in Vitamin A that, importantly, we can easily include in our diets? Carrots are one obvious source of beta carotene, but there are lots more vegan sources of Vitamin A too.
Remember, if it’s bright orange, red, yellow, or purple, then it’s going to be high in beta carotene. There are also a few leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, that are packed with Vitamin A!
Here are the most popular vegan foods high in Vitamin A:
- Sweet potatoes
- Dried apricots
- Butternut squash
- Red peppers
It’s important that you create a balanced diet, so try not to limit yourself to just one source of Vitamin A. Try to incorporate a mixture of fruits and vegetables that are high in Vitamin A into your meal plans, alongside your other essential nutrients (your protein, fiber, fats, sugars, etc.!).
For example, you can put together a fresh summer salad that has a leafy green base of lettuce and spinach, and that’s then topped with sliced red peppers, roasted butternut squash, and grated carrot.
Alternatively, you can prepare your favorite vegan lasagna. With a tomato base, this is already rich in Vitamin A, but you can add carrots, or some red peppers, for added carotene. The same goes for your favorite vegan spaghetti bolognese or even for pizza.
What we’re trying to say is that it’s easy to include Vitamin A in your vegan diet. In fact, as the examples show, many popular vegan meals are already going to include a lot of Vitamin A. The secret vegan sources of Vitamin A, then, are simply balanced meals!
The last word on vegan sources of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is one of the most important nutrients, and without it, our bodies are in trouble. But the reality is that Vitamin A isn’t a rare nutrient, because it’s found in so many different plants and vegetables.
Vegans don’t need supplements, and they certainly don’t need to go back to eating meat, fish, eggs, or dairy (these can be harmful!) to source their Vitamin A. If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough Vitamin A, then just add a few more carrots or peppers into your meals - it’s super-easy to hit your daily requirement that way!
Why not bookmark our guide to vegan sources of Vitamin A, so you can stay healthy and happy?