Vitamin A Is One of the Key Components of a Healthy Immune System—Here, the 7 Top Food Sources to Stock up On

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When it comes to immune-boosting nutrients, vitamin C and zinc tend to get the majority of the applause. While it's important to eat a diet with a variety of nutrients for a strong immune system, there's one key vitamin you may be overlooking—vitamin A. "Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a role in helping with the regulating of the immune system and immune function," says Mary Waddill, RD, Product Compliance and Nutrition Analyst at Whole Foods Market. "We know that the immune system helps our body fight against infections." Fat-soluble means that our bodies store it in fat tissue, so it's available longer than water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C. That also means that pairing food sources of vitamin A with a healthy fat can help with absorption.

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There are two main forms of vitamin A that you can get through your diet: preformed vitamin A (or vitamin A1), which is typically found in animal products or fortified foods, and provitamin A carotenoids, which are naturally found in bright-colored fruits and veggies, she explains. (You may also know the latter as beta-carotene.)

"The recommended daily allowance (RDA) by the Institute of Medicine is 900 mcg RAE for men and 700 mcg RAE for women," says Waddill. "Recommendations are slightly higher for pregnant and lactating women." FYI: instead of being measured in International Units (IU) like vitamin C is, vitamin A is measured in micrograms of retinol activity equivalents (RAE) to take into account the different absorption rates of the two types, Waddill explains.

Here are her top 7 vitamin A foods to stock up on now.

1. Sweet Potatoes

"One whole medium baked sweet potato—with the skin—provides over 150 percent of your daily value of vitamin A," Wadill says. "They can be cut into cubes or into wedges for sweet potato fries and roasted in the oven for a tasty side dish." (BTW, it's actually surprisingly easy to grow your own sweet potatoes.)

2. Spinach

"Spinach can be added into omelets, soups, salads, and smoothies as an easy addition that will help you meet your recommended amount of vitamin A per day," says Waddill. She says that a half cup of frozen spinach provides around 60 percent of the recommended daily value.

3. Carrots

Carrots are famously good for your eye health, and that's because they're chock-full of beta-carotene. "Vitamin A plays a key role in maintaining healthy vision," says Waddill. "It is a component of a protein in our eyes that absorbs light. So vitamin A helps support the cells in our eyes, as well as potentially reducing your risk of eye-related issues." She adds that a half cup of raw carrots gives you around 50 percent of your daily value of vitamin A.

4. Liver

Calling it like we see it: a single slice of beef liver contains 6,421 mcg of vitamin A1, which is 713 percent (!) of the daily value.

5. Winter squash

A cup of cooked winter squash—such as acorn, butternut, or kabocha squash packs 1,144 mcg or 127 percent of your recommended daily value. These hearty vegetables also pack heart-healthy fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin B6.

6. Kale

The veg darling of the wellness world is another excellent source of vitamin A (of course you are, kale). A cup of cooked kale greens will provide you with 885 mcg, which 98 percent of the daily value. Toss your kale salad with an olive oil-based dressing and add in avocado slices to help your body absorb its many nutrients, vitamin A included.

7. Collard greens

Another delicious, vitamin A-rich leafy green: collards.One cup cooked packs 722 mcg, which is 80 percent of your daily recommended intake. Collard greens are also an excellent source of vitamin C, calcium, vitamin K, and a good source of iron, vitamin B6, and magnesium. They also contain thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and choline. What's not to love?

Ready to learn more about immune-boosting foods? Check out the video below:

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