24 March 2015 Vitamin A: Keep Your Eyes Out for It

If you want good vision (especially at night) as well as healthy skin and teeth, and an optimal reproductive function, look for dietary vitamin A. In proper doses, other benefits of vitamin A include protection from infections and antioxidant power that could reduce risk of cancer and other age-related diseases. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient. It is a fat soluble compound and cannot be made in the body.

Vitamin A is found in animal and plant sources. The most concentrated form of vitamin A found in animals is retinol. In fact, before modern medicine in ancient Egypt, night blindness was treated by daily ingestion of ox or rooster liver. Other animal sources include egg yolks, milk and fish oil. Cartenoids, which are converted into vitamin A in the body, come from plant sources. Carotenoids are found in red, yellow, orange and dark green leafy vegetables. These plant sources not only will increase your vitamin A intake but they can also factor into your serving of five fruits and veggies daily. Look for more intensely colored fruits and vegetables to maximize vitamin A content. There are more than 500 known carotenoids. Beta-carotene, for example, is a known antioxidant that protects cells from damage.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin A for males, 14 years and older, is 3,000 IU/day. For females, 14 years and older, the RDA is 2,310 IU/day. For other age groups and categories, go here. About half the RDA can be easily obtained by simply eating five servings of fruits and veggies daily. Vitamin A is one of the four vitamins and minerals required on a Nutrition Facts label, and some foods, like low-fat milk and cereal are fortified with it.

Top vitamin A Sources:
Sweet Potato, 1 cup baked 28,058 IU
Beef Liver, 3 oz cooked 21,175 IU
Pumpkin, 1/2 cup canned 19,065 IU
Spinach, 1/2 cup cooked 11,458 IU
Kale, 1 cup raw 9,990 IU
Carrot, chopped raw, 1/2 cup 9,189 IU
Peas & Carrots, 1/2 cup cooked 7,357 IU
Spinach, 1 cup raw 2,813 IU
Milk, 1% fort with vit A 478 IU
Milk, whole, 1 cup 395 IU
Egg, 1 large 270 IU

Most multivitamin preparations contain 5,000 IU vitamin A. Unless you have been diagnosed with a vitamin A deficiency, or have a digestive disorder or a very poor diet, there is no need to take an additional vitamin A supplement. The body transports and stores retinoids so that the correct amounts are available to body tissues despite variations in daily vitamin A intake. In addition, since vitamin A can build up in the body, high doses of vitamin A supplement above the tolerable upper limit (TUL) of 10,000 IU per day place you at risk of toxicity. Symptoms of vitamin A toxicity include dry skin, joint pain, vomiting, headaches and confusion. High beta-carotene intake won’t make you sick but will turn your skin orange, probably not a preferable skin color unless it is Halloween.

So, keep your eye on vitamin A by being selective with food choices. Choose a sweet potato over a white potato, carrots instead of chips, kale instead of iceberg lettuce. Your eyes and skin will thank you for it.

References:
1. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/vitamina.html
2. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/#h3>

Brenda Braslow, MS, RD, CDE

Brenda is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Denver,

Colorado who specializes in diabetes prevention and health enhancement.

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Foods & Recipes/Red Meat Nutrients/Vitamin A & beta-carotene

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