Vitamin A

I have heard that if you eat two bright orange vegetables every day (such as sweet potatoes, carrots, or squash) your wrinkles miraculously disappear! While it may seem like an old wives' tale, I tried this and did actually notice a significant difference in the clarity and quality of my skin. This can be attributed to the abundant amounts of Vitamin A in these foods.

Vitamin A is incredibly beneficial to us. It is effective at helping to decrease inflammation throughout the intestinal mucosa, making foods rich in this vitamin essential for those with gut inflammation or digestive issues. Vitamin A is important for normal vision and proper bone and teeth formation, especially for growing children. It also plays an important role in a healthy immune system and reproductive health. Ever notice small bumps on the back of your arms? This is an indicator that you may not be getting enough Vitamin A rich foods in your diet.

A series of compounds called retinoids and carotenoids characterize this vitamin:


Retinoids

Retinoids are the active forms of Vitamin A, also referred to as derivatives, or preformed Vitamin A. These are known for their role in healthy skin, and work by inhibiting the breakdown of collagen (a protein that keeps skin firm). Perhaps you remember all the Retin-A creams that were so popular a few years ago? They are made from Vitamin A and are still prescribed by many skin specialists for decreasing wrinkles and promoting younger looking skin. Retinoids are sometimes referred to as the "animal form" of Vitamin A because they are obtained from animal sources.

Animal sources of Vitamin A: liver, eggs, fish, milk, and butter.


Carotenoids

Carotenoids are dark-colored pigments found in plants that give many fruits and vegetables their color. The brighter the color, the higher the beta-carotene content. Carotenoids are the reason why so many nutritionists tell you to eat your brightly colored vegetables and dark leafy greens.

There are more than 500 carotenoids, the most well known being beta-carotene, an antioxidant that protects your cells from damage caused by free radicals (aka things like pollution and smoking that are believed to cause certain diseases as well as aging you before your time). An area of interest for the carotenoids right now is the promise they show in the prevention of cancer.

If you are vegetarian, no worries, your body can convert all the vitamin A it needs from plant-derived carotenoids. If you add a pat of butter to your vegetables you are doubly covered. As mentioned, Vitamin A absorption requires the presence of dietary fat, therefore, a low-fat diet may decrease Vitamin A absorption and availability.

Vegetable sources of Vitamin A: sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, spinach, broccoli, kale, watercress, parsley, romaine lettuce, and spirulina.

Did you know?...

If you eat a whole lot of carrots, your skin can turn slightly orange! I've seen it many times! It's called Carotenosis and is caused by the excessive intake of foods that contain the orange pigment carotene. While it's a harmless condition, it may take up to several months to go away, so watch out if you're someone who loves their carrot juice! It is quite delicious if I don't say so myself.


Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)

Males age 14 and older, 900 micrograms/day (3,000 IU or 900 RAE)
Females age 14 and older, 700 micrograms/day (2,333 IU or 700 RAE)


Supplementation

Supplements report Vitamin A in international units (IUs), which is more a measurement of the potency of a drug, not its weight as micrograms. Also, because there are different forms of Vitamin A, each with its own potency, retinol activity equivalents (RAE) are also used to describe the overall Vitamin A content in foods.

 

One capsule of supplemental Vitamin A can average a whopping 10,000 IU to 25,000 IU!  Plus, there have also been some studies that have shown the effects of supplemental forms of beta carotene to be not so beneficial, such as actually increasing the incidence of lung cancer and overall mortality in smokers [I]. Remember that supplements are fractionated versions of the whole food and lack many other nutrients your body needs. So once again, be weary of supplementation.


Food Sources of Vitamin A

Here are just a couple of foods that blow Vitamin A supplements away:

1 slice cooked beef liver 21,134 IU
1 cup cooked dandelion greens 15,272 IU
1 small cooked sweet potato 11,530 IU
1 medium raw carrot 10,190 IU
1 cup spinach 2,813 IU

As you can see, one cup of spinach will get you very close to your daily requirement of Vitamin A, and just one carrot will send you over the edge! Remember that these are fat-soluble vitamins so adding a touch of butter, coconut oil, or olive oil will enhance their nutritional absorption...and make them taste amazing!

Last but surely not least, we can’t discuss Vitamin A without mentioning the almighty cod liver oil. Some brands provide a whopping 13,502 IU in just one tablespoon!

Make sure your family is getting enough Vitamin A with a simple dinner side dish such as our Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Thyme and Maple Syrup.

 

Resources

[I] Goralczyk, R. "Beta-carotene and lung cancer in smokers: review of hypotheses and status of research." Nutr Cancer. 2009; 61(6):767-74. Web. May 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20155614>.

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