Micronutrients: Vitamin A

Micronutrients: Vitamin A

Over the past few weeks we have covered the macronutrients – carbohydrate, protein and fat. The next series of articles will focus on the micronutrients – vitamins and minerals.

Vitamins

Vitamins are a diverse array of organic chemicals that are essential for optimal health. They are Vitaminsused for structural purposes, the building of tissues such as bones, skin and blood. They assist with the metabolism, allowing the body to gain energy from the food we eat. They also prevent deficiency related diseases.

Most vitamins cannot be synthesised in the body so dietary intake is essential. Others, such as vitamin D (produced during exposure to sunlight), and vitamin K (produced by intestinal bacteria) may not meet the level the body requires therefore some dietary intake is necessary.

They can be classified as fat-soluble or water-soluble. Today we will look at vitamin A.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin, is required to maintain the integrity of the skin and mucous membranes of the body. It is also essential for healthy eyesight, as it is used in the production of a specific photopigment found within the retina, which helps us to see at night. It is also needed for optimum immune function.

Sources:

Retinol (an active or premade form of vitamin A) is found in liver and liver products such as pâté, Vitamin A Sourcesfortified spreads, dairy, oily fish, egg yolk, fish liver oils.

Beta-carotene (the body converts this to vitamin A) is found in the yellow and orange pigments of vegetables and fruits. Carrots are the largest contributor of total vitamin A intake in the diet. Other good sources are red peppers, dark leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli, tomatoes, peaches, mangoes and apricots.

Recommended intake: 0.7mg for men and 0.6mg for women

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should be aware that excessive intakes of vitamin A could be harmful for your unborn baby. If you are pregnant or thinking of having a baby, avoid liver, pâté and other liver products, do not take supplements that contain vitamin A and avoid fish liver oil supplements.

Deficiency

Deficiency is not widespread. Low vitamin A status is usually a consequence of fat malabsorption or from a very low fat diet. The effects of deficiency include impaired night vision and decreased integrity of the mucous membranes and skin leading to secondary infection. You should be able to get your daily requirements from your diet as any vitamin A not used immediately will be stored for future use, meaning you don’t need it every single day.

If you eat liver or pâté more than once a week your vitamin A intake may be too high. Research has linked intakes greater than an average of 1.5g of vitamin A per day to decreased bone strength and increased fracture risk. The culprit here is retinol and not beta-carotene.

Recommendations

Vitamin A

The Harvard Health School recommend that you “eat lots of colourful vegetables (carrots, spinach, red pepper, tomatoes) and orange fruits (oranges, apricots, peaches). They provide vitamin A from beta-carotene, plus other important nutrients. You can’t get too much beta-carotene because it converts to vitamin A only as the body needs it”.

 

More Information

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Liam Leech, BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science, MSc. ANutr.

Liam Leech

BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science, MSc. ANutr.

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