Vitamin A is essential to the diet due to the countless functions it performs in the body. It plays crucial roles in vision, and in the normal proliferation and maturation of skin cells. A deficiency of vitamin A has severe consequences – from drying and thickening of the skin in its benign form, to drying of the eyes and blindness in its most devastating form.
Vitamin A is available in various foods as a retinyl ester dissolved in fats. The small intestine converts the retinyl esters to retinol, which is then absorbed by the gut. Vitamin A can also be obtained from the diet as the yellow orange pigment beta-carotene, present in carrots, squash and green leafy vegetables. Beta-carotene is structurally similar to vitamin A, being composed of two connected retinyl groups, but only has 1/6 the biological activity of pure retinol. Regular consumption of foods rich in retinol and beta-carotene will ensure adequate levels of vitamin A in the diet and will help prevent the outcomes of vitamin A deficiency.
Liver is very high in vitamin A. What makes liver an even more appealing source of vitamin A is that it contains retinol in its pure form. There are many appetizing ways to prepare and cook liver, including braising and stewing. However, if you are pregnant, you should not eat liver or any liver products. The high levels of retinol in liver may cause harm to your unborn child.
2. Dairy Products
Margarine, butter, cheese and cream all have good vitamin A contents. Use these in desserts and main courses to boost the vitamin A content of the meal. However, be extra careful with using too many dairy products. You do not want an increased risk of heart disease to go with your vitamin A.
Eggs are wonderfully rich in proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. They are also very rich in vitamin A. Omelets for breakfast is a sure way to get enough vitamin A.
4. Carrots and Squash
Yellow and orange vegetables are both very rich in beta-carotene. Carrots and squash are versatile vegetables that can be included as main ingredients in almost any kind of dish: soups, stews, casseroles, pies and even desserts. These vegetables are good for the eyes.
Next to carrots, spinach is probably the richest source of beta-carotene among all vegetables. It is preferred that spinach be served simply boiled to avoid losing all of its important vitamins and minerals. However, it can also be mixed in stir-fry dishes, stews, pastas and quiches.
6. Red Bell Peppers
Red bell peppers are also very rich in beta-carotene and vitamin A. Peppers can juice up the vitamin content of stews and casseroles.
7. Mangoes and Apricots
Do not be disappointed that most of the best sources of vitamin A and beta-carotene are vegetables. If you have a sweet tooth, you will be glad to know that mangoes and apricots are also delightfully rich in vitamin A. Eat them chilled and fresh, or add them to cakes, pastries and crepes for a great dessert.