Food First: Vitamin A

Overview

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be found under many different names, including retinol, retinal and retinyl esters, as well as beta-carotene, a pro-vitamin which can be converted to vitamin A by the body. Vitamin A has many important functions, including the maintenance of proper vision, cell growth and the normal formation of the heart, kidneys, lungs and other vital organs [i,ii].

Daily Recommendations

Women age 19 and older: 700mcg/day
Men age 19 and older: 900 mcg/day [i]

Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is incredibly rare in the developed world, but in developing countries it is the leading cause of progressive blindness due to a lack of food access. Cancer does not predispose one to an increased risk of deficiency, however those with pancreatic cancer should be aware of the signs of deficiency and ensure adequate intake of foods rich in all fat-soluble vitamins, not just vitamin A, as the pancreas is essential for the absorption of these vitamins in the body. Signs of deficiency include night blindness or an inability to see in low light situations. Some studies have suggested that vitamin A may decrease the risk of developing various cancers, particularly pancreatic cancer, although the results are still inconclusive [iii].

Excessive intake of fat-soluble vitamin supplements is not recommended, as it takes your body a much longer time to excrete them than water-soluble vitamins. Because of this, getting your fat-soluble vitamins from food sources is an excellent way to avoid nutrient deficiencies while preventing an overdose or toxicity [i,ii].

** If instructed by a medical professional to take a vitamin or mineral supplement, it is important that these instructions are followed. In some cases, food sources of vitamins and minerals will not be sufficient for addressing nutritional inadequacies. **

Sources of Vitamin A

Below is a list of the most common food sources of vitamin A [i].

  • Sweet potato
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Peppers
  • Broccoli
Vitamin A-rich Recipe: Kale Quiche with a Sweet Potato Crust
Ingredients
  1. 5 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 1 ½ pounds sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
  3. Salt
  4. 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  5. 1 small bunch curly kale, stems removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
  6. 12 large eggs
  7. 4 ounces sharp cheddar, grated (about 1 cup)
  8. 1 cup Greek yogurt
  9. Black pepper
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Instructions
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until potatoes are well browned and slightly undercooked (about 10-12 minutes). Transfer the potatoes to a lightly oiled springform pan and let cool.
  2. Using the back of a spoon or fork, flatten the potatoes and make sure to pack the potatoes into the seam where the two parts of the springform pan meet to prevent leakage later on.
  3. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat the remaining olive oil in the skillet used before on medium. Cook onion, tossing occasionally, until softened but not browned. Add kale a handful at a time and cook until just softened but not limp. Season with salt and let cool.
  4. Whisk eggs, cheese and yogurt in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set the springform pan on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet.
  5. Top the potatoes with half of the kale and onions and then pour in the egg mixture. Gently press the remaining kale and onions into the surface of the egg mixture.
  6. Bake the quiche until the edges have puffed up slightly and top is just set with no liquid egg remaining (approximately 55-75 minutes). Let cool before slicing and enjoy!
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Adapted from Bon Appetit
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Savor Health http://savorhealth.com/

References:

[i] Vitamin A: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals 2018; https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/#h6.

[ii] Vitamin A. 2018; https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/vitamin.

[iii] Huang X, Gao Y, Zhi X, Ta N, Jiang H, Zheng J. Association between vitamin A, retinol and carotenoid intake and pancreatic cancer risk: Evidence from epidemiologic studies. Sci Rep. 2016;6:38936.

Rebecca MacLean

Rebecca MacLean is a dietetic intern and graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University. Rebecca received her undergraduate degree in Human Nutrition and Food Science with a minor in Sustainable Food Systems from the University of Maine. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys home cooking and spending as much time as possible in the outdoors. She currently resides in New York City.

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