I always thought that carrots were a good source of vitamin A. Now I have heard that they don’t have as much as we used to think? Do I need to take a vitamin A supplement?
Deep orange, and dark green, carotene-rich veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, spinach, kale, and broccoli are still fabulous sources of vitamin A. Certain carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, can be converted to retinol, the active form of vitamin A in your body. In fact, approximately 26 to 34 percent of the vitamin A in our diet comes from these carotenoids, with the majority of it coming from beta-carotene. Unfortunately, it has recently been uncovered that these carotenoids provide only half the amount of vitamin A as originally thought. So you’ll need to chow down enough of Mother Nature’s finest to get the job done.
Because they also have antioxidant capabilities, a diet containing plenty of carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables may also help in the fight against heart disease and certain cancers. (Antioxidants eliminate oxidizing agents in your body before they do damage to your cells.) In essence, you are getting two for the price of one when you eat these foods.
Don’t let the news about carotenoids’ lower vitamin A-making capabilities send you down the vitamin supplement aisle just yet. Many deep orange and dark green vegetables contain so much beta-carotene that they can still play a major role in helping you meet your daily vitamin A needs. The latest advice, just released in January by the Institute of Medicine, recommends that males, ages 19 years and older, should consume 900 micrograms of vitamin A daily. Females of the same age should take in 700 micrograms daily.
Foods rich in beta carotene are still a vitamin A powerhouse:
|Amount of |
active vitamin A
|broccoli, cooked |
(about 1-1/4 cups)
|carrots, cooked |
|carrots, baby |
|kale, cooked |
|mango, fresh |
|spinach, cooked |
|acorn squash, cooked |
|sweet potatoes, baked |
*Vitamin A is stated in micrograms of retinol, an active form of the vitamin. The amount of beta-carotene that can be converted to retinol is measured in micrograms of retinol activity equivalents (RAE).
Vitamin A is also found in foods from animal sources such as: eggs, liver, some fish, and dairy products such as milk, which are fortified with vitamin A.
Vegetarians who don’t eat foods from animal sources should make sure they consume enough carotenoid-rich fruits and veggies to meet their needs. Soymilk and cereals that are fortified with vitamin A are some easy options.
Be cautious when taking supplements. High intakes of vitamin A (but not beta-carotene) can be damaging to your bones and liver, and can increase the risk of birth defects in pregnant women.
The upper limit for vitamin A is set at 2,800 micrograms for individuals ages 14-18 years old, and at 3,000 micrograms of vitamin A for those 19 years of age and older.