By Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD
Vitamin A is much more than just a vitamin that helps you see at night. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a role in immunity, the body's development and the maintenance of major organs.
Available in two sources, vitamin A is derived from animals and from plants. Vitamin A from animal sources is preformed vitamin A and is active immediately, and from plant sources it is provitamin A — including a group of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is the most common form of provitamin A and in plant foods it must be converted in the body to the active form of vitamin A.
Once active, both forms of vitamin A help preserve vision, fight infections, maintain healthy skin and bones and regulate cell growth and division. Without enough vitamin A, you may be at a higher risk for night blindness or experience skin disorders or infections. It is also a key structural component in the development and maintenance of the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs.
Meet Your Vitamin A Needs
Fortunately, there are colorful and delicious ways to easily meet your vitamin A needs. Just one medium baked sweet potato provides more than a day's worth of recommended daily vitamin A. Other good plant sources of vitamin A include red bell peppers, carrots and cantaloupe.
While red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables often steal the vitamin A spotlight, leafy greens — such as collards, kale and turnip greens — are also an excellent source. You can get vitamin A from animal sources, including eggs, organ meats such as liver and milk fortified with vitamin A.
With abundant sources of vitamin A available, it's easy to meet your daily needs with food. Before taking a supplement, speak to your health care provider to see if it's necessary. Be aware that excessive intake of vitamin A from some supplements can cause more harm than good.
Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics based in Atlanta, Ga.
Reviewed March 2014