Data on the vitamin A equivalency of β-carotene in food are inconsistent. We quantified the vitamin A equivalency (μg) of β-carotene in two diets using the dual-isotope dilution technique and the oral–faecal balance technique. A diet-controlled, cross-over intervention study was conducted in twenty-four healthy adults. Each subject followed two diets for 3 weeks each: a diet containing vegetables low in β-carotene with supplemental β-carotene in salad dressing oil (‘oil diet’) and a diet containing vegetables and fruits high in β-carotene (‘mixed diet’). During all 6 weeks, each subject daily consumed a mean of 55 (sd 0·5) μg [13C10]β-carotene and 55 (sd 0·5) μg [13C10]retinyl palmitate in oil capsules. The vitamin A equivalency of β-carotene was calculated as the dose-corrected ratio of [13C5]retinol to [13C10]retinol in serum and from apparent absorption by oral–faecal balance. Isotopic data quantified a vitamin A equivalency of [13C10]β-carotene in oil of 3·4 μg (95 % CI 2·8, 3·9), thus the bio-efficacy of the β-carotene in oil was 28 % in the presence of both diets. However, data from oral–faecal balance estimated vitamin A equivalency as 6:1 μg (95 % CI 4, 7) for β-carotene in the ‘oil diet’. β-Carotene in the ‘oil diet’ had 2·9-fold higher vitamin A equivalency than β-carotene in the ‘mixed diet’. In conclusion, this extrinsic labelling technique cannot measure effects of mixed vegetables and fruits matrices, but can measure precisely the vitamin A equivalency of the β-carotene in oil capsules.