Sweet potatoes, spinach and carrots are chock-full of healthy vitamins, but did you know that they are among the best food sources of vitamin A?
You may have been told to eat your carrots to keep those peepers sharp. That’s because vitamin A is well-known for its vision-supporting properties. But there’s so much more to this fat-soluble vitamin than just support for your eyes.
To start, vitamin A isn’t just one nutrient. It is a broad group of related nutrients that fit into two categories: Retinoids and Carotenoids.
In our food supply, retinoids are found exclusively in animal products. Retinoids and carotenoids have similar benefits, but retinoids are especially important for pregnancy, childbirth and infancy.
Carotenoids are found in plant foods like fruits and vegetables. Most carotenoids work as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. Some carotenoids play a very special supportive role in one individual function. For example, xanthophylls lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids found in the retina, so their purpose is to support eye health. Unlike retinoids, carotenoids must be converted into a usable form of vitamin A by the body.
Together, both forms of vitamin A can help improve your wellbeing and keep your immune system healthy. Here are five reasons to get more vitamin A in your diet:
- Avoid deficiency – Vitamin A deficiency is rare among young and healthy people of developed countries, but the elderly and chronically ill should be conscious of how much vitamin A they’re getting and where it is coming from. Symptoms of deficiency include night blindness, scaly skin, brittle hair and nails and low immunity. If you are low on vitamin A, you may also have low iron levels.
- Keep your vision healthy – Vitamin-A-rich carrots had their moment in the limelight during WWII when the British Royal Air Force attributed John Cunningham’s excellent night vision to a carrot-intense diet. And although this turned out to be propaganda (they were really using radar), vitamin A is still critical for good vision.
Rhodospin is a vitamin-A-storing photopigment that’s located in the eye’s rod cells, and it allows the cells to detect small amounts of light. This is what helps us see at night.
- Support skin health – If you want to keep fine lines and crow’s feet away, vitamin A may be the answer. Topically, vitamin A has been shown to help the body produce collagen, which is responsible for keeping the skin looking young. Vitamin A in the diet also plays a key role in wound healing and skin regrowth. This vitamin supports all the skin’s cells, whether internal or external.
- Support your immune system – Many genes involved in the immune response are regulated by vitamin A, which means that vitamin A is a crucial weapon in the fight against virtually any illness, from the common cold to cancer. A study done in London, England found that vitamin A supplements were able to reduce childhood mortality by 24% in low and middle-income areas.
- Reduce your risk of food allergies – A Monash University study found that less-than-adequate levels of vitamin A and short-chain fatty acids could lead to food allergies in infants. The study concludes that a high fiber diet rich in Vitamin A may be the key to preventing food allergies.
How Much Vitamin A Should You Take?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) recommends an average daily level to meet the needs of most healthy individuals. Current recommendations for healthy adults are:
- 900 micrograms daily (3,000 IU) for men
- 700 micrograms daily (2,300 IU) for women
- 770 micrograms daily (2,600 IU) for pregnant women 19 years old and older
- 1,300 micrograms daily (4,300 IU) for lactating women 19 years old and older
It’s important to note that you can get too much of this fat-soluble vitamin when it comes in the form of retinol or ester. There’s no need to worry about getting too much vitamin A from plant and vegetable sources, but take care to limit how much retinol you consume through supplementation.
The following is the tolerable upper limit for preformed vitamin A as set by the National Institutes of Health.
- 3,000 micrograms daily (10,000 IU) for men, women or pregnant/lactating women over 19 years of age
There’s a difference between avoiding a deficiency and getting adequate levels of vitamin A for good health. In most cases, you should be able to do both through diet. Vitamin A rich foods include animal sources like beef liver, cod liver oil, dairy and tune. Plant-based sources of vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and leafy greens.
If you’re concerned that you’re not getting adequate levels of vitamin A from your diet, you may take a multivitamin or vitamin A supplement to ensure you’re reaping the many benefits of vitamin A supplement. Just be sure to stay under the upper tolerable limit.