Vitamin A

Have you ever been told you need to ‘eat all your carrots so you can see in the dark’? There is some truth in this, as the orange pigment in carrots is turned into vitamin A by our bodies. Vitamin A is important in maintaining good eyesight, especially night vision. However, vitamin A is also important for growth and it helps us to fight infection.

How much vitamin A do we need?

Age(years)RDI*Vitamin A (µg/day) (as retinol equivalents)
Infants and toddlers1-3300
Adolescent boys14-18900
Adolescent girls14-18700
Pregnant women14-18700
Breastfeeding women14-501100

Which foods contain vitamin A?

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin found in two forms:

  1.  retinol (in animal foods) Retinol is found in the liver, milk, cheese and butter.
  2.  carotenoids (in plant sources). The most common of these is beta carotene, which gives the orange colour to carrots.  Carotenoids are also found in dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli) and yellow-orange coloured fruits and vegetables (capsicum, kumara). Carotenoids are converted into Vitamin A in the body.

Vitamin A Content of Food (Retinol equivalents)

Food itemVitamin A (µg) (as retinol equivalents)
1 slice of lamb liver20600
1/2 cup cheddar cheese233
1 teaspoon butter133
1 cup trim milk7
1 cup standard milk83

Vitamin A Content of Food (Beta carotene equivalents)

Food itemVitamin A (µg) as retinol equivalents (as b-carotene equivalents)
1 carrot782 (4680)
1 cup spinach540 (3230)
1 red capscium259 (1550)
1 cup boiled broccoli181 (1080)
1 red kumara43 (255)

Retinol Toxicity

Too much vitamin A (retinol) can be toxic, although this is rare from food sources but should be considered when taking supplements that contain high levels of the retinol form of Vitamin A. High levels of vitamin A (retinol) during pregnancy may increase the risk of birth defects. Women who are pregnant should

  • avoid eating more than 100g of liver a week (as this is high retinol)
  • avoid taking cod liver oil
  • avoid supplements containing vitamin A, including fish oils, unless advised by their doctor


Carotenemia is a condition where your skin turns orange from eating too much beta-carotene. It is most noticeable on the skin of your palms and soles. Unlike jaundice, though, carotenemia does not cause yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Carotenemia is usually seen in young children,  and despite its alarming appearance, it is relatively harmless and generally does not cause other health problems. To treat carotenemia, you simply need to stop eating so much beta-carotene.

Last modified: August 16, 2023