In the first of a five-part series covering essential vitamins, Sheah Rarbuck, a licensed dietitian with the University of Miami Health System, answers questions about Vitamin A - and offers a quick and easy recipe to help you get more of the nutrient.
Why is Vitamin A important?
Sheah Rarbuck: Vitamins are necessary for life. Without them, our bodies don’t function well. Vitamin A, for example, is vital for healthy skin, hair, eyes, and bones.
How do I know if I’m not getting enough?
Rarbuck: Dry hair and skin, as well as skin infections, indicate your body lacks sufficient Vitamin A. If you have any of those symptoms, ask your doctor to test your blood for a deficiency.
What foods should I eat?
Rarbuck: There are two sources of this vitamin: fat-soluble (retinoid) and water-soluble (carotenoid). Fat-soluble Vitamin A from animal foods such as liver, eggs, and milk is directly used by your body. Too much fat-soluble Vitamin A can cause hair loss and even liver damage. Water-soluble Vitamin A from fruits and vegetables is safer since it does not accumulate in your body. It’s found in orange and yellow foods – mangos, apricots, sweet potatoes, and carrots. You’ll also find it in tomatoes and dark greens like spinach and broccoli.
Can’t I just take a vitamin supplement?
Rarbuck: The best vitamin sources always come from whole, unprocessed foods. You can easily add the nutrient to your meals. Slip some shredded carrots into a sandwich or salad, toss a handful of spinach into your salad or smoothie and order sweet potato fries instead of regular fries next time you eat out.
So, this nutrient improves my hair, skin, eyesight, and bones. I’m sold!
If a blood test shows I’m deficient and my doctor recommends supplementing until I return to normal levels, how much should I take?
The best vitamin sources always come from whole, unprocessed foods.
Rarbuck: Ask your doctor or review the chart accompanying this article [see below]. And be aware that Vitamin A interacts with some drugs, including some antibiotics, so tell your doctor if you’re currently taking medications or supplements. Also, read vitamin labels – you want the carotenoid form of the vitamin. If the label says “retinol”, it’s possible to overdose.
Vitamin A contributes to healthy vision, skin, hair, and bones. Dry hair or skin or recurring infections may indicate deficiency. A blood test will reveal a deficiency. If you must supplement, follow your doctor’s recommendations or the accompanying chart. Better yet, add more orange fruits and veggies to your diet to get the healthy, water-soluble form of this vitamin. Don’t overdo it – too much fat-soluble vitamin A causes liver damage, hair loss, and other issues.
How Much Vitamin A Do You Need?
Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Sweet potato fries are a tasty way to add the nutrient to your diet.
- 3 medium sweet potatoes, 5" long
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Optional seasonings
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- paprika (1/2 teaspoon)
- garlic powder (1/2 teaspoon)
- Wash and peel sweet potatoes. Cut into 1/4 inch slices.
- In a large bowl, toss slices in olive oil until coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired.
- Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Bake at 425°F until tender and golden brown (about 20 minutes), turning occasionally to brown evenly.
Q&A led by Nancy Moreland, contributor to UMiami Health News.