March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Because vitamin A deficiencies are rare in the general population, the Food and Drug Administration no longer requires food manufactures to include vitamin A content on the Nutrition Facts label. In May 2016, the FDA announced changes to the Nutrition Facts label, including which nutrients are required by law to be listed on the label.
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 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. 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
There are many colorful and delicious ways to easily meet your vitamin A needs. 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 also are excellent sources. You also 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.