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What you need to know about Vitamin A

 


You may have heard that vitamin A helps keep your eyes and skin healthy. Are you concerned you’re not getting enough or that you need a supplement? Read on for what you need to know about vitamin A.


What can vitamin A do for me?

Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that is stored in our liver. It contributes to normal growth and development while keeping our eyes, skin and immune system healthy. Vitamin A plays a key role in maintaining healthy vision.

Vitamin A usually comes from animal food sources, but we can also make it from some compounds found in plant foods, called carotenoids.

What are carotenoids?

Carotenoids are phytonutrients found in different amounts in vegetables and fruit.  Foods that are brightly coloured such as dark green, orange, yellow and red vegetables and fruit contain carotenoids. 

There are many types of carotenoids with different functions in the body. For example, some carotenoids (like beta-carotene) can be turned into vitamin A in the body. 

Health Canada recommends that we eat one dark green and one orange vegetable or fruit each day. The reason for this recommendation is because the carotenoids from these foods contribute to our daily intake of vitamin A.


How much do I need?

Age in Years

Vitamin A needs micrograms (ug)/day*

Don’t exceed (ug/day)*

Men 19 and older

900

3000

Women 19 and older

700

3000

Pregnancy (19 and older)

770

3000

Lactation (19 and older)

1300

3000

*This amount includes sources of vitamin A from food and supplements.


Food sources of vitamin A

The table below will show you some of the animal foods that are sources of vitamin A and some of the plant foods that are sources of carotenoids.

Food

Serving size

Vitamin A (ug) RAE*

Animal sources (vitamin A)

Turkey Liver

75 g (2.5 oz)

16 950

Chicken Liver

75 g (2.5 oz)

4054

Cod liver oil

5 mL (1 tsp)

1382

Baked Eel

75 g (2.5 oz)

853

Goat cheese, soft

50 g (1.5 oz)

204

Milk (skim, 1%, 2%, chocolate)

250 mL (1 cup)

142-158

Salmon

75 (2.5 oz)

112

Egg

1 large

70

Plant sources (carotenoids)

Baked sweet potato

1 medium

1096

Pumpkin, canned

125 mL (1/2 cup)

1007

Carrot juice

125 mL (1/2 cup)

966

Cooked carrots

125 mL (1/2 cup)

766

Cooked spinach

125 mL (1/2 cup)

605

Baby carrots

8 carrots

552

Butternut squash

125 mL (1/2 cup)

413

Dried apricots

60 mL (1/4 cup)

191

Cantaloupe

125 mL (1/2 cup)

143

*As retinol activity equivalents (RAEs). 

 

What are RAEs? Vitamin A and carotenoids are measured differently. It takes many more carotenoids to make the same amount of vitamin A that you would get from animal foods. Using the measurement RAE helps to account for those differences. Here is the formula:

1 ug vitamin A = 12 ug carotenoids = 1 RAE


Do I need to take a vitamin A supplement?

No. It is not recommended that you take a vitamin A supplement. High doses of vitamin A are toxic. We can store vitamin A in our liver for long periods of time. This means we are not at risk for becoming deficient in vitamin A, even if we don’t eat vitamin A rich foods for a few days. 

Balanced, healthy eating based on Canada’s Food Guide will provide enough vitamin A for your daily needs either from animal food sources of vitamin A or the carotenoid rich dark green and orange vegetables and fruit. 

Can your skin turn yellow if you eat too many carrots? Yes. This happens because we store beta-carotene (which is a yellow-orange pigment) in the cells under our skin.   Eating a lot of beta-carotene from foods can make your skin look yellow, but this is not harmful to your health.


Vitamin A and pregnancy

Women who are pregnant should not take a vitamin A supplement, and should limit their consumption of liver, because of its high vitamin A content. Too much vitamin A can cause birth defects.

The vitamin A found in prenatal supplements is a safe amount to take during pregnancy.


Can taking a vitamin A or beta-carotene supplements help prevent cancer?

No. It is not recommended that vitamin A or beta-carotene supplements be used to prevent cancer. In fact, research has shown that in some cases, taking these supplements can increase the risk of some types of cancer.


Meal and snack ideas

  • Switch up white potato for sweet potato. Sweet potatoes can be roasted, mashed, baked and even grilled. They taste great when tossed with olive oil and grainy mustard, or drizzled with maple syrup and brown sugar.
  • Add spinach to everything. Toss it into omelets, soups, stews, pastas and rice dishes just before you’re ready to serve. It’ll cook up in no time and you’ll get your dark green vegetable for the day.
  • Make a tropical smoothie with milk or fortified soy beverage and frozen cantaloupe, papaya or mango. 
  • Keep healthy snacks at work: baby carrots, dried apricots or sliced red bell peppers.

Recipes

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

Grilled Asparagus and Sweet Potato with Curry

For preparation tips and recipe ideas for vitamin A and carotenoid rich foods:

Pumpkins

All about carrots

Asian Vegetables

Winter Squash

For more nutrients:

Vitamin E

Vitamin C

Vitamin D

Selenium

Calcium

Vitamins and Minerals FAQs

 

EatRight Ontario dietitians can answer your questions about vitamins or minerals. Call 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.

Last Update – June 15, 2015

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