Let’s break it down.
There are two ways to get your vitamin A fix: from animals and from plants. Retinol (see below…) is found in dairy, meat and fish; provitamin A carotenoids are converted into retinol by your body, and are found in plants (mostly orange-coloured ones). In short, this stuff is available all over the shop.
In fact, there’s a danger that we’re having too much of it… but more on that later.
“Vitamin A and retinol may be used interchangeably, but this neglects the components of the vitamin’s molecular structure” – wiseGEEK
- Vitamin A helps you see in the dark! Cool. The same thing that gives your carrots their lovely orange-ness (beta-carotene, a provitamin A carotenoid) is what helps protect your corneas and improve your overall eye health. You may see ‘fat-reduced spreads’ listed as sources of vitamin A: processed products like margarine would be grey if the factories didn’t pop some beta-carotene in there, used as an additive to get that nice yellowy hue. Hmm. Delicious fresh carrots or odd, artificially un-greyed slop. I know what I’d prefer.
Vitamin A deficiency can have a devastating effect on vision. Many charities work to get emergency vitamin A capsules to people suffering blindness in places like Ethiopia, where the problem is rife.
“Vitamin A is essential to the body. A diet of vegetables like carrots and broccoli, fruits like mango and apricot, or eggs can help to give the body the nutrients it needs not only to avoid blindness, but also diseases like measles, and even premature death” – CBM
Here in the UK, we’re lucky enough to have vitamin A-rich food readily available to us. In fact, you’ll find that the NHS and other health sources warn against too much vitamin A. What a world we live in.
Liver is an incredibly rich source of the stuff and can cause bone problems if eaten too frequently (read about osteoporosis here). This is why alcoholics are often deficient in vitamin A, because they’ve destroyed their liver.
- As ever with nutrients, vitamins and minerals, this one isn’t a one-trick pony. As well as giving us super-vision, vitamin A also helps us repel bacteria and viruses more effectively. Heroic.
- Perhaps not exactly a superpower, supple skin is also a sure thing if you get all your retinol. You’ll probably have heard the word spoken seductively by a model on TV ads for the latest anti-aging product. (Psst… digesting your retinol rather than slapping it on your face will probably be more effective!) It keeps spots at bay, too, by flushing out toxins and preventing excess sebum production.
So, make sure you’re getting enough of this health elixir. You’d be mad not to. Unfortunately, nutrition isn’t as straightforward as just scoffing down all the good things. You’ll be ok with beta-carotene because your body will only convert it into retinol if there isn’t enough knocking about already, but retinol from animals needs to be handled with a bit of care.
Interested in more?