Vitamin A and two best foods for beta-carotene


The last recipe was a beta-carotene bomb, no exaggeration. More so if you left pumpkin skin on because the absolutely best foods for beta-carotene are pumpkin peels and sweet potatoes. Too bad my pumpkin was not organic.

For you, as a vegan, beta-carotene is the major source of Vitamin A. Just a reminder that your body converts beta-carotene to Vitamin A. In fact, it has 100% pro-vitamin A activity. Compare it to alpha-carotene which has only half as much  – 53% pro-vitamin A activity. Having said that, do not expect that all beta-carotene you swallow is going to be converted to vitamin A. Generally speaking, your health status determines how much actually gets converted. Still, even when you are in optimal health, imagine that you need 6 molecules of beta-carotene to make 1 molecule of vitamin A! Hence, you better have a good supply of beta-carotene! And it is not difficult, because besides pumpkin and sweet potato almost every single orange fruit and vegetable has a bit of beta-carotene.



A background on vitamin A

Vitamin A is an essential vitamin and is crucial in cell division, eyesight, maintenance of bones and teeth and reproductive health. A lack of Vitamin A can manifest itself in slow healing of cuts and scrapes, less elastic facial skin, worsening of vision, highly vulnerable teeth. In more severe cases, in women during pregnancy, there might be abnormalities in development of an embryo.

Because not all beta-carotene is converted to Vitamin A and it is a challenge to estimate how much you need as everyone’s health state is different, to double cover your back, have something with lots of beta-carotene ever day. And organic pumpkin peels and sweet potatoes are excellent choices.

I bet you heard that Vitamin A is toxic in large amounts. Yes, but only if you take high does of Vitamin A supplements. From foods – perfectly safe. The only thing that you may end up with is orange skin as a result of too much beta-carotene not being converted to Vitamin A. This is completely reversible if you cut back on your orange produce. And who knows, you might find an orange glow quite pretty ;).

Remember, beta-carotene is a fat-soluble vitamin, to absorb it, add some good fat to your meal. On the other hand, once beta-carotene is converted to Vitamin A, Vitamin D helps cells utilize Vitamin A, so hang out in the sun!

Okay, why all this fuss with pumpkin peels and sweet potatoes?



Pumpkin peels

Vitamin A and two best foods for beta-carotene - squirrel

They knew it all along!

Pumpkin flesh has about two times less beta-carotene than carrots. Why am I talking about pumpkins and not carrots then? Because it is just the flesh while peels is a whole different deal! According to the 2012 Korean study, in all three pumpkin varieties analyzed, including the most common one, Cucurbita pepo, beta-carotene content in peels was 5-15 folds higher than in the flesh! Maybe nothing to be surprised about as its skin is ultra orange! This makes pumpkin truly an unsurpassed source of beta-carotene. Poor carrots cannot compete and are out of the game. That’s actually why in that pudding pie recipe, I suggested not to peel an organic pumpkin. The peels are soft enough to chew and have an agreeable flavour.

Pumpkins are large, so you may eat one pumpkin for weeks. This brings up how to store it so that the beta-carotene content doesn’t suffer. In 2014, Malaysian researchers looked into this specific issue and found that “to maintain the quality and quantity of the carotenoid content, the most suitable storage temperature is 20°C”.  For your reference, beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid.



Sweet potatoes

Vitamin A and two best foods for beta-carotene - signPeople love sweet potatoes – it is the most eaten beta-carotene food on the planet. And not for nothing – trans beta-carotene, a type of beta-carotene in sweet potato, does a really good job good at raising vitamin A in blood. Such conclusion was made by a study conducted in 2005 on young South African children. The more orange sweet potato in colour, the higher its beta-carotene content. But still, it can’t beat pumpkin peels no matter how orange. On average, one medium potato a day is enough to keep Vitamin A deficiency at bay (read a sign on the picture).


You can get pumpkins and sweet potatoes at any season and nearly in every grocery store, so with little planning there is no way you can fall short on Vitamin A.



A point to take away and alternatives

Once again, if you are vegan, you should watch your beta-carotene intake since not all of it ends up as vitamin A. As noted above, it is one of the fat-soluble vitamins with a pivotal role in several body functions, among which is keeping the integrity of teeth. This is especially beneficial for raw vegans since teeth could be partly stripped of minerals to counteract the harmful effects of too much phytic acid in the diet.

One last thing. If you are like me and you take egg yolks for B12, you don’t have to worry about falling short on this vitamin. Egg yolk is a source of pre-formed Vitamin A, so no extra work is required by your body. Plus it has fat and Vitamin D! Everything you need in one pack. The same goes for any good-quality fish liver oil supplement, the synergy of Vitamin A, fat and Vitamin D is there waiting for you!





Main references:

Vitamin A Saga (image) (image)


  1. I enjoyed your article about beta-carotene. I never have heard that you could eat the pumpkin flesh before. I love to eat sweet potatoes. Are yams the same thing?

    I was wondering what kind of vitamin A you would get from eating salmon. I get fresh Alaskan salmon every year from a relative who fishes there for a living. Do you know what other nutrients you get from salmon?

    You made me curious about that when you mentioned fish liver oil. I just eat it because I like it and everyone says that it is good for you.

    • Hi Sue,

      Although yams and sweet potatoes are quite similar in taste and shape, they belong to different families of plants. In fact, yams belong to the same family as regular white potatoes. On the other hand, sweet potatoes belong to the same family of plants as morning glory! Consequently, yams are much more close to regular white potatoes than sweet potatoes.

      As for salmon, you are actually lucky, not many people have access to such luxury – eating wild salmon caught by someone you know. Its flesh has a pre-formed Vitamin A, meaning that it directly gets absorbed into the bloodstream.

      Salmon and its eggs (caviar) are also a source of relatively little-known powerful antioxidant called anthaxathin. Actually, this is the topic of the article I am working on.

      I would advise that you don’t cook salmon to preserve its wonderful life-giving substances. Both vitamin A and anthaxathin are destroyed by heat to some extent. Instead, either pickle or dehydrate it at low temperature – I tried both in the past (before I became vegan) – yummy.

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