When you’re trying to live a healthy lifestyle, it can seem like there’s an overwhelming amount of information to keep up with. (Anyone who’s old enough to remember when margarine was thought to be healthier than butter knows that expert recommendations can change over time.) However, it’s still worth checking in with your diet to make sure you’re getting enough of important nutrients.
Vitamin A is one of these nutrients. You probably don’t give it much thought—it’s not as popular to write about as B, C and D vitamins are. It still plays an important role in your health.
Here’s why you should make sure you’re getting enough vitamin A, and the best sources of vitamin A-rich foods.
Benefits of vitamin A
According to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin A (also known as retinol or retinoic acid) “is a nutrient important to vision, growth, cell division, reproduction and immunity.” Your body cannot make vitamin A on its own, so you need to get it from outside sources. It’s an essential micronutrient. It may also have antioxidant properties, which eliminate free radicals. (Free radicals are compounds that your body produces when it breaks down food, is exposed to cigarette smoke or other pollutants.) Since free radicals are thought to be responsible for causing cancer, heart disease and other problems, you want to make sure you’re getting plenty of antioxidants in your diet.
Vitamin A supports your vision and cell health, but there are some specific benefits, too. For example, if you’re at risk of age-related macular degeneration, you can reduce your risk of the disease by up to 25 percent. It’s also recommended for children with measles, who may be at risk for a vitamin A deficiency. Finally, retinol is a regular ingredient in skincare, thanks to its ability to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
There’s some speculation that vitamin A also aids in cancer and acne prevention, but not enough research has been done to support these claims.
Most Americans get enough vitamin A in their diets—at least enough to prevent a concerning deficiency. However, people with eye disease, pancreatic disease and measles may want to pick up a supplement. The recommended dose is 900 mcg for adult men, and 700 mcg for adult women—but be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a supplement regimen, especially if you have serious health conditions.
Some symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include dry skin and eyes, night blindness, delayed growth in children, infertility and poor wound healing.
Good sources of vitamin A
Vitamin A is primarily found in dark, leafy greens, carrots, cantaloupe, dairy products and liver. Here are some foods to try:
- Liver sources: Beef and lamb liver, liver sausage and cod liver oil are all great sources of vitamin A. One slice of beef liver has over 700 percent of your recommended daily value of vitamin A. However, many people are not fans of offal (organ meats). Try cod liver oil capsules instead—the equivalent of one teaspoon includes over 33,000 percent of your recommended intake. Or, be festive during the holidays and enjoy some goose liver pate.
- Fish sources: King mackerel, salmon and bluefish tuna are great sources of vitamin A—and they offer plenty of other health benefits, too. These are great and often sustainable choices for any diet that includes fish. Even caviar includes vitamin A, in case you wanted to treat yourself.
- Dairy sources: Dairy is an excellent source of vitamin A, whether you want to indulge in goat cheese or cheddar; camembert or limburger. Of course, milk and eggs are good everyday sources of vitamin A, so don’t hesitate to make yourself some goat cheese scrambled eggs—for your health, of course.
- Vegetable sources: Spinach, kale, collards and other dark leafy greens contain significant amounts of vitamin A, but you can also find it in sweet potatoes, winter squash and carrots. It turns out that the people who swore eating carrots is good for your eyesight were onto something.
- Fruit sources: If you enjoy fruits over vegetables, you can get vitamin A from mangoes, cantaloupe, pink and red grapefruit, nectarines, apricots and more.
While you’re unlikely to be completely vitamin A-deficient, it’s still a good idea to make sure you’re including it in your daily diet. Luckily, there are plenty of healthy—and delicious—sources of vitamin A. If all else fails, try a supplement. Just keep in mind that it might not have the same antioxidant properties as getting it from your food.