Vitamin A does so much more than simply improve your vision. Here’s why you need to make sure you get enough – but not too much – of this crucial nutrient.
When you think about vitamin A, carrots or sweet potatoes probably come to mind first. While orange fruits and vegetables are certainly a source, they’re actually not the best source. That’s because plant sources contain the inactive form of vitamin A, and our bodies might not even be able to use it!
Here’s what you need to know about this confusing vitamin, and how you can make sure you’re getting the right amount.
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The Different Types of Vitamin A (and Why it Matters)
You need vitamin A for overall health, especially when it comes to vision, immunity, and reproductive health. It also helps support our kidneys, lungs, and heart. (1)
There are two forms of vitamin A: active and inactive. The active kind, also known as retinol, is found in animal products, while plant-based foods only carry the inactive kind. (2)
In order to reap the vitamin A from plant foods like sweet potatoes and carrots, your body needs to convert beta-carotene into retinoids. While our bodies are designed to do this, the process can be a bit cumbersome. Studies show that we need to consume four units of beta-carotene in order to produce just one unit of vitamin A! That means we need to consume a massive amount of fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene to get enough.
It’s also important to note that not everyone is able to convert beta-carotene to retinol. Those suffering from suboptimal thyroid function, or diabetes, as well as infants, and children are unable to properly make this very important conversion. (3)
The Three Best Sources of Vitamin A
While orange fruits and vegetables are excellent for overall health, we shouldn’t rely on them for our vitamin A requirements. However, it’s important to note that these foods should still be enjoyed as a regular part of a healthy diet. Drizzle a bit of fat like coconut oil or ghee over beta-carotene rich foods to help boost the absorption of the vitamin in its inactive form. (4)
In the meantime, be sure to get plenty of these top sources of vitamin A that contain the active form:
Organ meats are some of the best sources of vitamin A you can find, and a little goes a long way. In a four-ounce piece of beef liver, you’ll get 19,000 IU’s – that’s more than you need in a single day! (5) You can introduce beef liver to your diet slowly by adding a little bit to soups and stews, mixed with lots of grass-fed beef with generous amounts of herbs and spices.
Pasture-raised eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat, and they’re a great source of vitamin A, healthy fat, protein, and minerals. Start your day with a healthy omelette stuffed with bacon, mushrooms, and spinach, or simply scramble up a few with a little ghee!
Wild-caught fatty fish like salmon is a great source of retinol, with 200 IU’s of vitamin A in a four-ounce serving. (6) Salmon is also a great source of vitamin D, another fat-soluble vitamin that may be especially beneficial when paired with vitamin-A rich foods. Try this one-pan salmon with carrots and sweet potatoes for a super dose!
Cautions of Supplementing
Before you think about supplementing with vitamin A, it’s important to speak with a doctor to check your levels first. There can be harmful side effects of getting too much, like increasing your risk of osteoporosis. Supplementing with vitamin D along with vitamin A may help protect against toxicity. (7)
The best way to get your fill is to eat more eggs, salmon, and organ meats. If you don’t want to eat these foods, you can also try taking cod liver oil, which is a great source of vitamins A and D.
The Bottom Line
Carrots and sweet potatoes are great, but the best sources of vitamin A are actually animal sources. Be sure to get enough of the bioavailable form by eating eggs, beef liver, and wild-caught salmon. These contain high levels of the active form of this vitamin, which will help support your vision, immunity, and internal organs, including your reproductive health.
Get your fill of vitamin A in delicious recipes like roasted vegetable soup topped with a fried egg, or sweet potatoes and pears stewed ghee. Click HERE to get your free copy of our super popular Paleo Eats cookbook!