Nutrient to Know: Vitamin A

Did you know vitamin A can be found in 2 major forms – each with their own special functions? Learn more about this “two-faced” nutrient.

We all know we should eat our veggies, but do you know why? Nutrients from whole foods provide plenty of amazing health benefits. To continue our series on common nutrients, this week we're shining the spotlight on vitamin A (a.k.a. retinol and beta-carotene).

What is it?

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin -- its two forms are retinol (commonly referred to as just “vitamin A”) and beta-carotene. Your body can convert beta-carotene into retinol. Both kinds of vitamin A are found in food, and eating either counts toward your daily needs.

Why is it good for you?

Vitamin A builds healthy skin, bones and eyes (night blindness is a symptom of A deficiency). Beta-carotene also works as a cell-protecting antioxidant.

But too much of a good thing is possible. Our bodies store excess vitamin A, so overdoing supplements can have some negative effects, including birth defects, liver damage and nervous system disorders. Studies have found that large doses of beta-carotene supplements can increase the risk of lung cancer, especially in smokers. But we're just talking about overdoing the artificial vitamins found in supplements. Don’t limit those vitamin A-rich foods!

Where can I find it?

The retinol form of vitamin A is in butter, cheese, milk, egg yolks and liver. Beta-carotene hangs out in dark leafy greens; bright red, yellow, and orange veggies and fruits such as oranges, limes, pineapple, apricots and cantaloupe.

The daily recommended amount of vitamin A is 5000 IU. Sure, that sounds like a huge number, but it’s easier than you might think to get it without using supplements. Here are some tasty, natural ways to help you get your full daily dose:

1 medium carrot = 8666 IU (173%)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper = 4666 IU (93%)
1 cup cooked green peas = 1050 IU (21%)
1 cup diced cantaloupe = 5411 IU (108%)
1 cup sliced mango = 1262 IU (25%)
1 cup milk = 500 IU (10%)
1 medium peach = 319 IU (6%)
1 egg yolk = 245 IU (5%)

Want to learn more? Read up on how much vitamin E and choline you need daily.

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