Vitamin A

Vitamin A


This is one in a series of fact sheets containing information to help you select foods that provide adequate daily amounts of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber as you follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The Guidelines are -

  • Eat a Variety of Foods
  • Maintain Desirable Weight
  • Avoid Too Much Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol
  • Eat Foods with Adequate Starch and Fiber
  • Avoid Too Much Sugar
  • Avoid Too Much Sodium
  • If You Drink Alcoholic Beverages, Do So in Moderation

WHAT IS MEANT BY A GOOD FOOD SOURCE?

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A good food source of vitamin A contains a substantial amount of vitamin A and/or carotenes (converted to vitamin A in the body) in relation to its calorie content and contributes at least 10 percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (U.S. RDA) for vitamin A in a selected serving size or a unit of measure considered easy for the consumer to use. The U.S. RDA for vitamin A is 1,000 retinol equivalents per day. (The U.S. RDA given is for adults, except pregnant or lactating women, and children over 4 years of age.)

The U.S. RDA for vitamin A is the amount of the vitamin used as a standard in nutrition labeling of foods. This allowance is based on the 1968 Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for 24 sex-age categories set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences. The 1989 RDA has been set at 800 retinol equivalents per day for women 19 to 50 years of age and 1,000 retinol equivalents for men 19 to 50 years of age.

In 1985 and 1986, 33 percent of the vitamin A (including carotenes) in the diets of women came from fruits and vegetables. Dark-green vegetables and deep-yellow fruits and vegetables provided about half of the vitamin A in the form of carotenes coming from this group. Grain products and milk and milk products each supplied about 20 percent of the vitamin A consumed. Foods that contain small amounts of vitamin A but are not considered good sources can contribute significant amounts of vitamin A to an individual's diet if these foods are eaten often or in large amounts.

WHY DO WE NEED VITAMIN A?

Vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin, is involved in the formation and maintenance of healthy skin, hair, and mucous membranes. Vitamin A helps us to see in dim light and is necessary for proper bone growth, tooth development, and reproduction.

DO WE GET ENOUGH VITAMIN A?

According to recent USDA surveys, the average intake of vitamin A (and carotenes) by women and men in the USA 19 to 50 years of age met the RDA for vitamin A.

Click here for nutrition table for 7,248 foods.

Click here for Ranked Table of Food Sources - Vitamin A

VITAMIN A DEFICIENCY

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. In pregnant women VAD causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality.

Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in more than half of all countries, especially in Africa and South-East Asia, hitting hardest young children and pregnant women in low-income countries.

Crucial for maternal and child survival, supplying adequate vitamin A in high-risk areas can significantly reduce mortality. Conversely, its absence causes a needlessly high risk of disease and death.

"Improved vitamin A nutrition could prevent up to 2.5 million deaths annually among children under 5 years." Vitamin A for the Children of the World Task Force Sight and Life, 2000.

  • Vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness and is the single most important cause of childhood blindness in developing countries. Every year, about 500,000 children lose their sight as a result of vitamin A deficiency. The majority (about 70%) die within one year of losing their sight.

  • Vitamin A deficiency increases the risk of severe illness, and even death, from common childhood infections such as diarrheal diseases and measles. In developing countries 200–300 million children of preschool age are at risk of vitamin A deficiency.

  • Vitamin A deficiency may increase the risk of maternal mortality in pregnant women. Nearly 600,000 women die from childbirth-related causes each year, the vast majority of them from complications which could be reduced through better nutrition, such as vitamin A.

HOW CAN WE GET ENOUGH VITAMIN A?

Eating a variety of foods that contain vitamin A (and carotenes) is the best way to get an adequate amount. Healthy individuals who eat a balanced diet rarely need supplements. In fact, too much vitamin A can be toxic. The list of foods will help you select those that are good sources of vitamin A as you follow the Dietary Guidelines. The list of good sources was derived from the same nutritive value of foods tables used to analyze information for recent food consumption surveys of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Information Service.

World Health Organization’s goal is the worldwide elimination of vitamin A deficiency and its tragic consequences, including blindness, disease and premature death. To successfully combat VAD, short-term interventions and proper infant feeding must be backed up by long-term sustainable solutions. The arsenal of nutritional “well-being weapons” includes a combination of breastfeeding and vitamin A supplementation, coupled with enduring solutions, such as promotion of vitamin A-rich diets and food fortification.

The impact of this single supplementation on childhood mortality is as great or greater than that of any one vaccine – and it costs only a couple of cents a dose.

The basis for lifelong health begins in childhood. Vitamin A is a crucial component. Since breast milk is a natural source of vitamin A, promoting breastfeeding is the best way to protect babies from VAD.

For deficient children, the periodic supply of high-dose vitamin A in swift, simple, low-cost, high-benefit interventions has also produced remarkable results, reducing mortality by 23% overall and by up to 50% for acute measles sufferers.

Planting these “seeds” between 6 months and 6 years of age can reduce overall child mortality by a quarter in areas with significant VAD. However, because breastfeeding is time-limited and the effect of vitamin A supplementation capsules lasts only 4-6 months, they are only initial steps towards ensuring better overall nutrition and not long-term solutions.

Cultivating the garden, both literally and figuratively, is the next phase necessary to achieve long-term results.

Food fortification takes over where supplementation leaves off. Food fortification, for example sugar in Guatemala, maintains vitamin A status, especially for high-risk groups and needy families.

For vulnerable rural families, for instance in Africa and South-East Asia, growing fruits and vegetables in home gardens complements dietary diversification and fortification and contributes to better lifelong health.

In 1998 WHO and its partners – UNICEF, the Canadian International Development Agency, the United States Agency for International Development and the Micronutrient Initiative – launched the Vitamin A Global Initiative. In addition, over the past few years, WHO, UNICEF and others have provided support to countries in delivering vitamin A supplements. Linked to sick-child visits and national poliomylitis immunization days, these supplements have averted an estimated 1.25 million deaths since 1998 in 40 countries.

HOW TO PREPARE FOODS TO RETAIN VITAMIN A

Vitamin A can be lost from foods during preparation, cooking, or storage. To retain vitamin A:

  • Serve fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible.
  • Keep vegetables (except sweet potatoes and winter squash) and fruits covered and refrigerated during storage.
  • Steam vegetables and braise, bake, or broil meats instead of frying. Some vitamin A is lost in the fat during frying.

WHAT ABOUT FORTIFIED FOODS?

Lowfat and skim milks are often fortified with vitamin A because it was removed from milk with the fat. Margarine is fortified to make its vitamin A content the same as butter.

Most ready-to-eat and instant-prepared cereals are fortified with vitamin A. Fortified ready-to-eat cereals usually contain at least 25 percent of the U.S. RDA for vitamin A. Since cereals vary, check the label on the package for the percentage of the U.S. RDA for a specific cereal.

WHAT IS A SERVING?

The serving sizes used on the list of good sources are only estimates of the amounts of food you might eat. The amount of a nutrient in a serving depends on the weight of the serving. For example, 1/2 cup of a cooked vegetable contains more vitamin A than 1/2 cup of the same vegetable served raw, because a serving of the cooked vegetable weighs more. Therefore, the cooked vegetable may appear on the list while the raw form does not. The raw vegetable provides the nutrient - but just not enough in a 1/2-cup serving to be considered a good source.

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WHAT ARE GOOD SOURCES OF VITAMIN A?

FOOD SELECTED PERCENTAGE OF SERVING SIZE U.S. RDA (1)

BREADS, CEREALS, AND OTHER GRAIN PRODUCTS(2)

Oatmeal, instant, fortified prepared 2/3 cup +++
Ready-to-eat cereals, fortified 1 ounce ++

FRUITS

Apricot nectar 1/2 cup +
Apricots:
Canned, juice-pack About 3 halves +
Dried, cooked, unsweetened 1/2 cup ++
Dried, uncooked About 9 halves +
Cantaloup, raw About 1/2 cup diced ++
Mandarin orange sections, canned or frozen, juice-pack 1/2 cup +
Mango, raw 1/2 medium +++
Melon balls (cantaloup and honeydew), frozen, unsweetened 1/2 cup +
Nectarine, raw 1 medium +
Plums, canned, juice-pack 1/2 cup +
Watermelon, raw About 1 3/4 cups diced +

VEGETABLES

Broccoli, cooked 1/2 cup +
Carrots:
Cooked 1/2 cup +++
Raw 4 3-inch strips +++
Chard, cooked 1/2 cup +
Collards, cooked 1/2 cup +
Endive, chicory, romaine, or escarole, raw 1 cup +
Escarole, cooked 1/2 cup +
Kale, cooked 1/2 cup +++
Mustard greens, cooked 1/2 cup +
Peas and carrots, cooked 1/2 cup +++
Pepper, sweet, red:
Cooked 1/2 cup ++
Raw 1 small +++
Plantain, green or ripe, boiled 1 medium +
Pumpkin, cooked 1/2 cup +
Spinach:
Cooked 1/2 cup +++
Raw 1 cup +
Squash, winter, cooked, mashed 1/2 cup +++
Sweetpotato:
Baked or boiled 1 medium +++
Canned 1/2 cup +++
Tomatoes:
Cooked 1/2 cup +
Raw 1 medium +
Tomato juice, canned 3/4 cup +
Tomato-vegetable juice cocktail 3/4 cup +
Turnip greens or turnip greens with turnips, cooked 1/2 cup +++

MEAT, POULTRY, FISH, AND ALTERNATES

Meat and Poultry
Liver, braised:
Beef, calf, or pork 3 ounces +++
Chicken or turkey 1/2 cup diced +++

Fish and Seafood
Mackerel, canned, drained 3 ounces +

MILK, CHEESE, AND YOGURT

Milk, lowfat or skim 1 cup +

(1) A selected serving size contains -
+ 10-24 percent of the U.S. RDA for adults and children over 4 years of age

++ 25-39 percent of the U.S. RDA for adults and children over 4 years of age

+++ 40 percent or more of the U.S. RDA for adults and children over 4 years of age

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