Beta-carotene, also called provitamin A, is a member of a group of plant-produced compounds called carotenoids, which serve as precursors to vitamin A. Beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant. The ultimate source of all vitamin A is from the carotenes, and beta-carotene has the highest vitamin A activity 1. Beta-carotene is particularly abundant in orange vegetables and fruit, and may be directly added to foods as a vitamin supplement 2.

Carotenoids may either be absorbed through the intestines intact, or be cleaved to form vitamin A prior to absorption. There is no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for beta-carotene or other provitamin A carotenoids. However, dietary provitamin A carotenoids have vitamin A activity that can be expressed as retinol activity equivalents (RAEs). The RDA for RAEs is 900 µg/day for men and 700 µg/day for women 3. Beta-carotene supplementation in humans is likely safe over long periods of time.


  1. Ensminger AH, Ensminger ME, Konlande JE, Robson JRK. The Concise Encyclopedia of Foods and Nutrition. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 1995.
  2. Food and Drugs. Title 21, U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. 1999. 21CFR. Ref Type: Bill/Resolution
  3. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2002.