In this article we want to clear up confusion and help you understand how you can get enough of this important vitamin. It is true that you cannot always get enough Vitamin A from fruits and vegetables because your body may not be able to convert it. To make matters worse, FDA regulations allow food processors to label carotenes as vitamin A. A can of tomatoes can be labeled to contain vitamin A even though it only has microscopic amounts. And to add to the misleading information, the foods that provide large amounts of vitamin A—butter, egg yolks, liver, organ meats and shellfish—have been demonized by the fat phobic low fat movement.
Your body can convert carotenes into Vitamin A provided your intestines and gallbladder are in good health. Of the entire family of carotenes, beta-carotene is most easily converted to vitamin A. It used to be that 4 units of beta-carotene would convert to one vitamin A. This ratio has been revised, so that 6 units are now needed. You have to consume a whole lot of vegetables and fruits to obtain even the daily minimal requirements of vitamin A – provided you convert the carotenes.
The conversion is where the problem lies. Diabetics and those with poor thyroid function, a group that includes more than half the adult US population, cannot make the conversion. Children do not make the conversion well and infants not at all — they must obtain their precious stores of vitamin A from animal fats. With low fat diets being recommended, this contradicts what nature recommends. The following further interferes with conversion of this Vitamin:
• strenuous physical exercise,
• excessive consumption of alcohol,
• excessive consumption of iron (especially from “fortified” white flour and breakfast cereal),
• a number of popular drugs,
• excessive consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids (vegetable oils)
, • zinc deficiency
• cold weather
Carotenes are converted to Vitamin A by bile salts, and very little bile reaches the intestine when a meal is low in fat. Adding organic butter to your vegetables and cream to vegetable soup will help you and your children obtain more Vitamin A. Butterfat stimulates the secretion of bile needed to convert carotenes from vegetables into vitamin A, and at the same time supplies very easily absorbed true vitamin A. Polyunsaturated oils (vegetable oils common in many processed foods) also stimulate the secretion of bile salts but can cause rapid destruction of carotene!
Vitamin A is critical for growth and repair of body tissues; it helps protect membranes of the mouth, nose, throat and lungs; it prompts the secretion of gastric juices necessary for proper digestion of protein; it helps to build strong bones and teeth and rich blood; it is essential for good eyesight; it aids in the production of RNA; and contributes to the health of the immune system.
Vitamin-A deficiency in pregnant mothers results in offspring with eye defects, displaced kidneys, harelip, cleft palate and abnormalities of the heart and larger blood vessels. Vitamin A stores are rapidly depleted during exercise, fever and periods of stress. Even people who can efficiently convert carotenes to vitamin A cannot quickly and adequately replenish vitamin A stores from plant foods.
Foods high in vitamin A are especially important for diabetics and those suffering from thyroid conditions. In fact, the thyroid gland requires more vitamin A than the other glands, and cannot function without it. And a diet rich in vitamin A will help protect the diabetic from the degenerative conditions associated with the disease, such as problems with the retina and with healing.
Supplies of vitamin A are so vital that mankind is able to store large quantities of it in the liver and other organs. Thus it is possible for an adult to subsist on a fat-free diet for a considerable period of time before overt symptoms of deficiency appear. But during times of stress, vitamin A stores are rapidly depleted. Strenuous physical exercise, periods of physical growth, pregnancy, lactation and infection are stresses that quickly deplete vitamin A stores. Children with measles rapidly use up vitamin A, which can result in irreversible blindness. An interval of three years between pregnancies allows mothers to rebuild vitamin A stores so that subsequent children will not suffer diminished vitality.
One aspect of vitamin A that deserves more emphasis is its role in protein utilization. Kwashiorkor is as much a disease of vitamin-A deficiency, leading to impaired protein absorption, as it is a result of absence of protein in the diet. High-protein, lowfat diets are especially dangerous because protein consumption rapidly depletes vitamin-A stores.
Growing children actually benefit from a diet that contains considerably more calories as fat than as protein. A high-fat diet that is rich in vitamin A will result in steady, even growth, strong physical structure and immune system.
Confusion is created when publishers like The New York Times advocates for lowfat diets, even for children, and then writes that vitamin-A-rich foods like liver, egg yolk, cream and shellfish increase resistance to infectious diseases in children and prevent cancer in adults. A Washington Post article hailed vitamin A as “cheap and effective, with wonders still being (re)discovered,” noting that recent studies have found that vitamin-A supplements help prevent infant mortality in Third World countries, protect measles victims from severe complications and prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV virus. The article lists butter, egg yolk and liver as important sources of vitamin A, but claims, unfortunately, that carotenes from vegetables are “equally important.”
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