Let’s talk about nutrition!
Vitamins and minerals are essential to a healthy, functional body, but many times we are unaware of the role each one plays. Join us as we explore these vitamins, starting with A.
What is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble compound that is stored in the liver.
There are two types – preformed Vitamin A, which is found in animal products such as meats, dairy and eggs, and provitamin A, which is found in plant-based food sources. You may be familiar with the term retinol, which comes from preformed Vitamin A, and with the term beta-carotene, which comes from provitamin A.
What does Vitamin A do?
Vitamin A plays a vital role in keeping your eyes healthy. It helps your retinas process light, and individuals with A deficiency tend to have difficulty with night vision in particular.
This vitamin also helps keep your skin, immune system and cells healthy. As babies develop in their mothers’ wombs, Vitamin A helps with cell growth and the development of the internal organs.
How do you get Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is common in a variety of foods.
Among animal products, it is highest in liver foods, beef, eggs, fortified milk and fish, especially herring and salmon.
In fruits and vegetables, Vitamin A tends to be highest in produce that boasts the richest colors, whether that be leafy green veggies like spinach and kale, or red and orange veggies like carrots (remember beta-carotene?), sweet potatoes, mangoes and apricots.
Vitamin A supplements are also available, although as we will see, they are often not necessary except for specific medical needs and can even be toxic if you get too much.
Can I get too little?
Most Americans are not in danger of Vitamin A deficiency. That is because most Americans eat enough foods containing the vitamin, and it doesn’t take much to have a sufficient amount.
In other countries, where fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fresh meat and dairy, are hard to acquire, Vitamin A deficiency is more of an issue.
Chances are, if you are reading this article, you are getting enough Vitamin A.
Can I get too much?
Yes and no.
Research has shown that there are no adverse health effects to having a lot of beta-carotene from plant sources. Excess beta-carotene may tint your skin yellow or orange, but you would have to eat a lot of it for those symptoms, and the skin coloration returns to normal when a person goes back to a normal intake.
However, we need to exercise caution with the preformed Vitamin A found in animal products and supplements. Too much of this type of Vitamin A can have serious negative side effects, including liver damage, birth defects, blurry vision, nausea, headache, skin irritation, joint pain and bone thinning (which is especially bad for seniors).
A healthy approach
When it comes to Vitamin A, as with nutrition in general, simple balance is the way to go. Enjoy a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats, and be moderate in all things.
Then, as you take a bite into a carrot or a swig of milk, you can thank this vitamin for doing its job of keeping you healthy and thriving.