Vitamin A

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

How much you need each day:

  • 600mcg for adult women
  • 700mcg for adult men

Why you need it:

Vitamin A is essential for reproduction and growth and development in children.

It’s also necessary for keeping the skin, hair and eyes healthy and is particularly needed for vision in dim light.

It also keeps the linings of organs such as the lungs and digestive tract healthy, helping the body to fight infections.

Beta-carotene (which the body uses to make vitamin A) is also a powerful antioxidant and may help to protect against diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Good food sources:

There are two forms of vitamin A available to the body – retinol and beta-carotene, the latter of which is converted into vitamin A in the body.

Retinol is found in foods of animal origin such as whole milk, cheese, butter, egg yolk, liver and oily fish. Margarines are also fortified with vitamin A by law.

Beta-carotene is found mainly in dark green vegetables such as spinach and watercress, and yellow, orange and red fruits such as carrots, tomatoes, dried apricots, sweet potatoes and mangoes.

Too little:

Low intakes of vitamin A can result in poor vision, dry skin, impaired reproduction and growth and an increased susceptibility to infection.

In severe cases, it can lead to xeropthalmia or night blindness, which is often seen in third world countries.

As retinol can be stored in the liver, a deficiency in this country is rare, although figures from the most recent National Diet and Nutrition survey show that 7% of men and 9% of women have vitamin A intakes below the LRNI.

This increases to around one woman in five aged 19-24 years, indicating this group may be the most susceptible to low intakes.

Top tip:

Reduced-fat dairy products are lower in vitamin A than full-fat products because the vitamin is removed with the fat portion of the milk.

To get some vitamin A from dairy products when you’re dieting, go for semi-skimmed rather than skimmed milk, low-fat rather than fat-free yoghurts and include small amounts of reduced-fat cheese in your diet.

How to get enough:

Food Vitamin A Content (mcg)
60g boiled carrots 756
1/2 mango 225
1 boiled egg 116
1 tomato 91
300ml semi-skimmed milk 68
30g reduced-fat Cheddar cheese 54

Watch out!

Vitamin A toxicity, which can damage the liver, bones and eyes, is rare and is usually due to excessive intakes of vitamin A supplements rather than high intakes from food.

Research also shows a link between high intakes of vitamin A and reduced bone density, which increases the risk of hip fracture.

Meanwhile, large amounts of vitamin A have occasionally been linked with congenital abnormalities in newborn babies, so the Department of Health currently advises all women planning a pregnancy, or who find they are pregnant, to avoid taking vitamin A supplements, except on the advice of their doctor.

Because liver can have a high vitamin A content, pregnant women should also avoid liver and liver products such as liver sausage or liver pâté.

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