Both animal and plant foods have vitamin A activity. Retinol, also called preformed vitamin A, is the natural form found in animals. Carotenoids, found in plants, are compounds that the body can convert to vitamin A.

Liver is the single best food source of vitamin A. However, many experts recommend eating liver only once or twice a month because of the toxic substances it can contain. Environmental pollutants tend to congregate in an animal's liver. Egg yolk, cheese, whole milk, butter, fortified skim milk, and margarine are also good sources of vitamin A. Be careful, though, as all these foods -- except fortified skim milk -- are also high in total fat and saturated fat, and all except margarine are high in cholesterol. Red palm oil, used for cooking in many tropical countries, and fish liver oils taken as supplements are also rich in vitamin A. One tablespoon of cod liver oil contains more than 12,000 international units (IU), more than twice the daily recommended intake for adults.

Because of the high fat and cholesterol content of most vitamin A-rich foods, as well as the potential for overdosing, it is recommended that you do not overeat from these sources just to fulfill your need for vitamin A. (Recent studies suggest that vitamin A, as retinol, can be toxic at much lower doses than previously thought.) Currently, Americans get about half their vitamin A as retinol from animal sources and half as carotenoids from plant sources.

This chart will help you find foods that are a good source of vitamin A.

Food Quantity
Vitamin A Content International Units (IU)
Retinol Equivalents (RE)
Baked sweet potatoes, peeled
1 medium 28,805 2,881
Pumpkin, canned 1/2 cup 27,018 2,702
Sweet potatoes, candied 1 medium 25,188 2,519
Beef liver, cooked 2 ounces 20,230 6,130
Spinach, canned, drained 1 cup 18,781 1,878
Sweet potatoes, canned 1 cup 15,966 1,597
Spinach, cooked, fresh or frozen 1 cup 14,790 1,479
Carrot, raw 1 medium 12,767 1,277
Cantaloupe 1/2 medium 12,688 1,269
Peas and carrots, frozen (boiled, drained) 1 cup 12,418 1,242