We’ve been told since we were young that eating carrots will help our eyesight… or maybe it was just my mom who said that?

A vertical picture of a variety of different orange-colored vegetables set on a white wooden surface. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

There is some truth to this common recommendation because carrots, and several other types of vegetables, happen to be a good source of vitamin A.

Let’s take a closer look at what this essential nutrient has to offer:

What Is Vitamin A?

Starting with the basics, let me explain what vitamin A is.

This fat-soluble vitamin is made up of several chemical compounds. There are two types commonly found in the human diet: preformed vitamin A that is mainly found in meat and animal products, and provitamin A carotenoids which are found in plants.

A close up horizontal image of a variety of fruits and vegetables on a white surface with a blackboard with chalk text in the center.

Preformed vitamin A compounds (including retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid) are the “active” forms of the vitamin, which can be utilized by your body without undergoing any conversion process.

Provitamin A carotenoids such as beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin are “inactive” forms that your body needs to convert into retinol, the usable form.

A type of provitamin A carotenoid that you may have heard of is beta-carotene.  This compound gives fruits and vegetables a reddish-orange hue, the typical color of most carrots, for example.

Other phytochemicals like lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin are also carotenoids, however, they are not converted to usable vitamin A in the body. They do bring their own unique health benefits and it is still good to include foods high in these compounds in your diet nonetheless!

The recommended daily allowance of vitamin A is 900 micrograms of RAE (retinol activity equivalents) for males aged 14 and up, and 700 micrograms for females of the same age range.

With so many different forms out there, measuring how much of the usable nutrient you will get from a given food can vary considerably.

One microgram RAE is equivalent to 1 microgram of retinol, 2 micrograms of supplemental beta-carotene, 12 micrograms of dietary beta-carotene, or 24 micrograms of dietary alpha-carotene or beta-cryptoxanthin.

How Vitamin A Helps Our Bodies

Getting adequate amounts of vitamin A in our diets is essential for several bodily functions.

A close up horizontal image of bright orange carrots with foliage still attached.

It affects gene expression, meaning it works to bind to specific receptors that trigger our genes to make certain proteins. The proteins made can then be used in many processes throughout the body, to keep it functioning properly.

It also supports healthy immune function, plays a role in cell growth, and overall growth and development of the body.

Last but not least, as it is famously known for, vitamin A plays an essential role in our vision!

Retinal is actually a structural component of the rods and cones in the retina. The retina is the area of the eye that receives light, and induces reactions that allow us to see.

Adequate vitamin A intake is associated with a reduced impact of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), or in other words, a progressive worsening of vision as we age.

Ready to get out in the garden and grow your own source of vitamin A?

Top Vegetable Sources

So many homegrown vegetables are sources of provitamin A carotenoids, and they’re not all orange. Most dark leafy greens also contain significant levels of beta-carotene.

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Broccoli

While this vegetable doesn’t bring an orange hue, it still provides a good source of vitamin A!

One cup of chopped cooked broccoli offers 120 micrograms of RAE, meeting over 13 percent of the recommended daily value.

Broccoli is also a good source of iron – another reason to add it to your cool-weather garden.

A close up square image of 'Waltham 29' broccoli growing in the garden with a large, mature head ready for harvest, pictured in bright sunshine.

‘Waltham 29’ Broccoli

‘Waltham 29’ is an heirloom variety that produces large, blue-green heads on long stalks. It’s cold-tolerant and is ideal for eating fresh or to store in the freezer.

You can find seeds in a variety of packet sizes available at Burpee.

Learn more about how to grow broccoli in this guide.

2. Carrot

As previously mentioned, carrots are a great source of vitamin A. One medium carrot meets over 60 percent of the daily recommended value, with 509 micrograms of RAE.

Carrots are perfect to toss into smoothies and salads, grate into batter for homemade baked goods, or to serve as a simple steamed side dish.

A close up square image of a wooden box with fresh 'Tendersweet' carrots spilling out of it.

‘Tendersweet’ Carrot

‘Tendersweet’ heirloom carrots are a deep orange color, with a tender texture and sweet flavor. Nine to ten-inch roots are ready for harvest after 65 days.

You can find seeds in a variety of packet sizes available from Eden Brothers.

Learn how to plant and grow carrots in our guide.

3. Pumpkin

A classic fall favorite, pumpkin is an excellent source of this vision-boosting nutrient. One-half cup of canned pumpkin puree provides 950 micrograms RAE, meeting over 100 percent of daily needs.

Pumpkins are a versatile ingredient, and you can check out the best varieties for purees and pies, or learn more about our favorite pumpkins for cooking here.

A close up square image of a round, ripe 'Small Sugar' pumpkin set on a wooden surface surrounded by autumn leaves.

‘Small Sugar’ Pumpkin

‘Small Sugar’ is an heirloom cultivar that produces 10-inch, bright orange gourds ready to harvest after 100 days.

As the name suggests, ‘Small Sugar’ has sweet, tender flesh.

You can find seeds available from Eden Brothers.

Check out our guide to learn how to grow your own pumpkins.

4. Spinach

This leafy green is a good source of several different nutrients, and one cup of raw leaves provides 141 micrograms of RAE. At 20 percent of the daily value for women, this is a great option to toss into salads.

‘Bloomsdale Long Standing’ is an heirloom cultivar that provides an abundant harvest of deep green, tender leaves.

A close up square image of a bunch of 'Bloomsdale Long Standing' spinach leaves, with the stalks tied together, set on a wooden surface.

‘Bloomsdale Long Standing’ Spinach

This variety is slow to bolt and baby leaves can be picked for salads after 30 days and mature greens in 50 days.

You can find seeds in a variety of packet sizes available from Eden Brothers.

Check out our spinach growing guide to learn more.

5. Sweet Potato

One medium sweet potato offers 1180 micrograms of RAE, well over the recommended daily amount!

‘Beauregard’ is a variety with deep red skin and rich orange flesh, full of beta-carotene.

A close up square image of 'Beauregard' sweet potato with dark red skin and orange flesh, sliced and set on a wooden surface.

‘Beauregard’ Sweet Potato

Mature and ready to harvest after 90 days, long, plump tubers have a sweet flavor.

You can find packets of 12 or 24 slips ready to plant available at Burpee.

And check out our guide for full instructions on how to plant and grow sweet potatoes.

A Clearer Vision

Now that you have a better vision of the importance of vitamin A, you can confidently add more of the top veggie sources to your garden, and your diet.

A close up horizontal image of a variety of colorful fruits vegetables freshly harvested from the garden.

Homegrown vegetables have incredible flavor as well as outstanding nutritional content.

Do you grow any of these super sources in your garden? Let me know in the comments if you were surprised by any of the vegetables on this list!

For more info about vitamins and minerals in homegrown produce, check out these articles next:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Burpee and Eden Brothers. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

The contents of this article have been reviewed and verified by a registered dietitian for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as personalized or professional medical advice. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.

About Tori Vallana, RD, LDN

Tori Vallana is a registered dietitian with a passion for making food and nutrition simple. She holds an associate’s degree in baking and pastry arts as well as a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. Tori loves perusing her local farmers market to find high-quality produce and encourages her patients to do the same!