Healthy Eating Tips

Here’s How Your Body Is Telling You You’re Not Getting Enough Vitamin A

Photo: Stocksy/Jimena Roquero
Many of us eat vitamin-rich foods, sip nutritious beverages, and swallow supplements in between, but vitamin A isn’t always on top of that list, despite the fact that it plays a vital role in the body.

“The fat soluble vitamin A is a key part in maintaining vision and keeping your immune system in check," says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LDN, CLEC, CPT. "It's also important for proper growth and development, skin health, and in helping many of our organ's ability to function, including our heart and lungs.”

How much vitamin A do we need?

The amount of vitamin A a person needs depends, of course, on age and sex.

“Adult men need 900 mcg RAE, while adult women need 700 mcg RAE,” says Manaker. “Pregnant women need 770 mcg RAE and lactating women need 1,300 mcg RAE.” For a visual of quantities she highlights that 1/2 sweet potato will give you around 700 mcg RAE, five dried apricots have 63 mcg RAE, and a whole mango has approximately 110 mcg RAE.

Top vitamin A foods to eat

Besides mango and sweet potato, spinach is an excellent source of vitamin A with 471 mcg in 1/2 cup cooked. “Spinach also offers up calcium for healthy bones,” says Bianca Tamburello, RDN.

Tamburello also singles out eggs for being an affordable lean protein and a simple way to add some vitamin A to your day. “One large egg has 90.5 mcg of vitamin A and salmon has about 123 mcg of vitamin A in 1/2 fillet cooked (178 g). As a registered dietitian, I also recommend salmon from Chile because it contains Vitamin A, and is particularly high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury.”

Next, Tamburello calls out carrots, which have about 640 mcg of vitamin A in 1/2 cup cooked. "It's easier for the body to absorb vitamin A from cooked carrots rather than raw, but both are great choices for a vitamin A boost,” she says. Other good options include foods that are orange in color, as that can be a sign that the food has vitamin A. “A 1/2 cup of cantaloupe has about 180 mcg of vitamin A and, lastly, milk is often fortified with vitamin A. One cup of milk has about 143 mcg of vitamin A.”

Vitamin A deficiency symptoms to look out for

1. You may have dry skin

Being deficient in this vitamin means that your skin may not be supplied with a key nutrient that helps repair skin, which Manaker says can result in the experience of having dry, flaking skin.

2. Your immune system may be weak

Vitamin A plays a key role in immune function. “Not having enough of this nutrient can result in your immune health suffering, because it's lacking a nutrient that's key for keeping your body in fighting shape,” says Manaker.

3. You may experience eye health concerns

Both dry eyes and night blindness are linked to vitamin A deficiency (of course, night blindness is a more extreme case of this condition). "If a person is experiencing dry eyes, getting adequate vitamin A may be a better long-term solution than simply taking eye drops, but the best course of action should be determined by a person's health care provider,” says Manaker.

4. Your wounds and cuts may not be healing

Vitamin A plays a role in collagen synthesis and we need to be able to produce collagen in order to produce healthy skin. “If one has a wound, vitamin A can play a key role in the body's ability to heal said wound, along with an adequate supply of other key nutrients like protein, zinc, and vitamin C,” says Manaker.

So... when is it worth considering a supplement?

Manaker insists that a food-first approach is usually best, but a supplement can be beneficial if a person's diet is lacking foods that contain this nutrient. That said, she cautions that since it’s a fat soluble vitamin, it’s not one that people should megadose as there are risks associated with overwhelming the body with this category of vitamin. Always speak with your health care professional before starting a new supplement regimen.

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