Vitamin A: Don’t forget to eat your carrots!

When most people think of vitamin A, they think of carrots and beta-carotene, but they are actually two different things (kind of). Let me explain.

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. Fat soluble vitamins should not be consumed in excess since they can accumulate in your fat tissues. Because they can accumulate in tissues, there is a lower risk of deficiency.

Beta-Carotene is something called a carotenoid. It is found in many foods, even those where there is no vitamin A. What are they considered one-in-the-same? Because Beta-carotene can be converted to vitamin A when needed, but can be excreted in the urine if there is already enough vitamin A in the body. It is very unlikely someone would have to worry about consuming toxic levels of beta-carotene – however, if you do eat a lot of beta-carotene, your palms an feet might turn orange!

So what does vitamin A do? Vitamin A’s most well-known function is night vision. The rods in our eyes are responsible for night vision and vitamin A is responsible for the function of rods. Vitamin A also plays a role in proper gene expression, immunity, growth, development, and red blood cell production.

There is some controversial discussion over vitamin A. Some people claim it helps prevent cancer, but it only seems to be beneficial when it is consumed as beta-carotene in whole fruits and vegetables. Some people claim it can increase the risk of osteoporosis, but there is no substantiated evidence that this is true.

How much do I need? Men need about 900 mg (3000 IU) and women need about 700 mg (2310 IU) but needs change based on age and developmental stage.

How can I reach my RDA? Since beta-carotene is found in healthy food and does not put you at risk of accumulated excess vitamin A in your tissues,  I would urge you to aim at using fruits and vegetables to meet your RDA. One cup of cubed cantaloupe has 5411 IU, which will meet the needs of most adult males and females.

Weekly Challenge: Aim to consume 100% of your vitamin A needs from a different beta-carotene source each day.

Resources

  1. The Office of Dietary Supplements Vitamin A Fact Sheet
  2. The Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrients Information Center – Vitamin A
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