More About Vitamin A

We have learned to associate the term "carotenoid" with vitamin A. However, there are several hundred different carotenoids found in Nature that cannot convert to vitamin A in the body. Some of the more familiar carotenoids are lycopene-found in tomatoes, lutein, and zeazanthan-found in some fermented foods.

Provitamin A, found in many supplements, seem to display the function of antioxidants-at least in some scientific settings, but the science has been unable to prove this same function in the human body.

Vitamin A is an antioxidant-a molecule that can protect our cells from free radical damage. This damage is caused by damaging by-products of oxygen metabolism-known to contribute to many different disease processes.

What foods provide vitamin A?

Eggs, liver, and milk-all contain the form of vitamin A known as retinol. Because more and more people are drinking fat free and low fat milk, they are are usually processed with added vitamin A. It is the fat in the whole milk that contains the vitamin A. Dark colored fruits and vegetable contain the form of vitamin A known as provitamin A.

Among the most common provitamin A carotenoids that are found in edible plants, only beta-carotene is truly effective at being converted into retinol. Some of the cartenoids, such as alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, are also converted into retinol-the bioavailble form of vitamin A, but only at about half of the efficiency of beta-carotene.

We now know that there are many dietary sources of retinol, or vitamin A-some being milk, margarine, eggs, beef liver, and cereals that are fortified with vitamin A. Carrots, cantaloupes, sweet potatoes, and spinach produce provitamin A carotenoids. This form has to be converted into retinol by the body.

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