Vitamin A plays a critical role in your body. Its most classic function is keeping the eyes healthy to support proper vision. Additional roles of Vitamin A include maintaining the health of the cells, immune system, circulatory system, integumentary system, and reproductive system. Specific studies have discovered that enough Vitamin A may even decrease risk of certain cancers or HIV.
Vitamin A is what we call a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that in the presence of fat, it’s both absorbed and stored better. Therefore, if you restrict too much fat from your diet, you could prevent Vitamin A from functioning properly or being fully absorbed in the body.
There are several different forms of Vitamin A, but the two main forms in food are retinol and beta-carotene. While retinol is found in animal sources, beta-carotene is found in plant sources. Retinol is readily available in eggs, liver, salmon, low-fat dairy, fish oils, and fortified grains. Beta-carotene, also considered pro-vitamin A, most often appears in carrots, squash, leafy greens, mangoes, sweet potatoes, nectarines, cantaloupe, broccoli, apricots, bell peppers, pureed pumpkin, or fresh tomatoes.
The main difference between these two types is that beta-carotene needs to be converted to a form that the body can use, but retinol does not need to be converted. Although there are far more sources of beta-carotene than retinol, the Vitamin A found in animal products is nearly 6 times as effective as plant-based foods! In fact, even if you eat the advised 2-3 cups of fruits and vegetables, you would only be meeting 50-65% of the recommended Vitamin A, so it may be a good idea to eat more animal products. If you are vegan or vegetarian, consider taking a supplement to make sure you get enough!
In order to meet your daily needs for Vitamin A, it is recommended that men consume 900 RAE (Retinol Activity Equivalents) and women consume 700 RAE. This can easily be obtained from a single serving of carrots or 3 oz. cooked spinach. Be sure to include a small amount of fat along with it for maximum absorption! A great food idea to try rich in both Vitamin A and healthful fat is sweet potato fries roasted in extra virgin olive oil. Strive to attain an A+ in terms of your nutrient and health status by trying new foods and keeping a balanced diet!