Vitamin A, or retinol, is one of the fat-soluble vitamins essential to the body. It is found as retinol in mammals and as provitamin A (beta carotene) in plants. Its actions in the body allow, among other things, to preserve visual acuity and strengthen the immune system.

Characteristics of vitamin A:

  • Fat-soluble vitamin important for vision and the immune system
  • Found in the form of pro vitamin A (beta carotene) in certain plants
  • Presene in the form of retinol in large quantities in organ meats
  • Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant and promotes skin pigmentation
  • Excess beta carotene could have adverse health consequences

Why consume foods rich in vitamin A?

Vitamin A: benefits and roles in the body
Vitamin A, beta carotene, retinol and pro vitamin A: what are the differences?
In the body of humans and animals, vitamin A is found in the form of retinol, retinal or even retinoic acid. Foods of animal origin therefore contain vitamin A in the form of retinol. In foods of vegetable origin we find vitamin A in the form of carotenes, which are precursors of vitamin A, called pro vitamin A. In this sense, beta carotene is said to be a pro vitamin A.

What is vitamin A used for?

Vitamin A and eyesight
Vitamin A plays an essential role in the quality of vision. It allows, in fact, the triggering of nerve impulses at the level of the optic nerves. A sufficient intake of vitamin A thus reduces the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

  • antioxidant
Carotenes, and beta-carotene in particular, are molecules with powerful antioxidant power. In the body, antioxidants help fight cell aging and oxidative stress. In other words, they neutralize the damage caused by free radicals and help maintain a healthy body and a powerful immune system.

  • Vitamin A and skin
Retinol participates in the differentiation and renewal of body cells and in particular of the skin and mucous membranes. We also often emphasize the benefits of foods rich in carotene on the quality of the skin. Indeed, vitamin A is a precursor of melanin responsible for skin pigmentation. Thus, a good supply of vitamin A and beta carotene prepares the skin for the sun, protects the skin cells against external aggressions and promotes their renewal.

Foods Rich in Vitamin A

In the diet, various foods are sources of retinol or carotenes. Carotenes are mainly found in orange fruits and vegetables as well as leafy green vegetables, while retinol is mainly found in organ meats.

Animal sources of vitamin A

Foods rich in vitamin A from animals contain vitamin A in ester form, which is then easily converted by the body into retinol. When vitamin A is in the form of retinol, its absorption by the small intestine is facilitated.

  • meat and fish
The contents in micrograms are valid for 100 g of foods rich in vitamin A:

Cod liver oil 30,000 μg
Our ancestors very often consumed cod liver oil. It was given for many years to children during the last century.

As mentioned above, animal livers are among the foods rich in vitamin A. However, it is not just poultry liver: beef liver contains 9,442 μg of vitamin A, cod liver contains 4170 μg and duck liver contains 5400 μg.

Liver is mainly eaten cooked and is often cooked in sauce. It is also the main ingredient for making certain liver pâtés and mousses.

Eel 1140 μg
Cooked eel is one of the seafood products containing vitamin A. Eel is generally cooked with parsley and is often eaten grilled in Japan.

Lumpfish roe 287 μg
Prized during the end-of-year celebrations, lumpfish eggs are a good source of vitamin A that is often overlooked.

Herring 36 μg
Although its vitamin A content is lower than the foods mentioned above, pickled herring is one of the fatty fish counted among the foods rich in vitamin A. Indeed, it has a high rate of absorption of this vitamin since it marinates in vegetable oil and that fatty substances facilitate the absorption of vitamin A.

Butter 800 μg
Vitamin A is mainly contained in raw butter.

Fresh cream 390 μg
To create creamy and velvety sauces, a touch of fresh cream is more than enough.

Parmesan 345 μg, Emmental 265 μg and Roquefort 285 μg are non-negligible food sources of vitamin A.

The egg 263 μg
It is mainly the egg yolk that provides vitamin A to the body. To benefit from all the nutrients contained in the yolk, cooking in a dish is one of the ideal cooking methods, the yolk must still be runny.

Plant-based sources of pro-vitamin A

  • Fruits and vegetables
Here are the fruits rich in vitamin A for a serving of 100 g and raw:
  • Apricot 1630 μg
  • Mango 1220 μg
  • Melon 1060 μg
  • Tomato 840 μg
Here are the vegetables rich in vitamin A for a 100 g serving:

  • Cooked carrot 7260 μg
  • Cooked Pumpkin 6940 μg: Cooked autumn squash is one of the foods rich in vitamin A, pumpkin contains 1000 μg of beta-carotene.
  • Dandelion 5850 μg: raw, incorporated into fresh salads, cooked like spinach or boiled, dandelions are a good source of beta-carotene.
  • Fresh salad 5230 μg
  • Spinach raw or cooked 4010 μg
  • Chard 3650 μg
  • Lettuce 2000 μg
  • Cooked red pepper 1520 μg raw 790 μg
  • Chew 874 μg
  • Kale 769 μg
Herbs: parsley 5360 μg, thyme 2270 μg and chives 1380 μg.
During the day, it is a question of varying the contributions and the foods rich in vitamin A in order to cover the daily recommendations. Vary foods rich in vitamin A to ensure the absorption of this micronutrient essential to the proper functioning of the body.

Fruits and vegetables are still part of foods rich in vitamin A and therefore remain a non-negligible source of provitamin A and also of nutrients in general.

Food supplements in beta carotene or vitamin A

Many food supplements are made from vitamin A or its precursors (including beta carotene). Vitamin A supplementation may be indicated to prevent or treat eye pathologies (retinitis, macular degeneration, cataracts, etc.). Also, these supplements are particularly appreciated for their antioxidant capacity which helps support the immune system and prevent certain diseases. Finally, as summer approaches, beta carotene is widely used to activate melanin synthesis and promote tanning. Be careful, however, if taking vitamin A has few consequences, taking beta carotenes can be dangerous in the long term. Ask your doctor for advice before considering supplementation.

Side effects of vitamin A

Consequences of vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is much more common than you might think, especially in underprivileged populations. It mainly causes vision problems that can range from a simple alteration of the cornea to total blindness. Vitamin A deficiency can also be responsible for a decrease in immune defenses and therefore greater susceptibility to infections.

Consequences of excess vitamin A

Vitamin A is stored in the liver, an excess can lead to hepatomegaly (large liver) and various digestive disorders (nausea, diarrhea, etc.). At the skin level, an overdose can lead to irritation and itching. In children, there is a risk of over-thickening of the bone tissue. In pregnant women, an excess of vitamin A can lead to fetal malformations. Fortunately and apart from exceptional cases (liver pathologies, excessive intake of supplements, etc.), overconsumption is extremely rare.

 Interactions with other nutrients

Lipids have a beneficial effect on the absorption of vitamin A regardless of its form (retinol or carotenes). It is therefore recommended to consume foods rich in vitamin A as part of a complete meal. In addition, the antioxidant action of beta carotene is increased in the presence of other antioxidant molecules such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium or even zinc.

Please note that for smokers, taking food supplements containing beta carotene is not recommended. Indeed, the combination of provitamin A and certain molecules contained in tobacco would increase the risk of developing lung and stomach cancer.