Health Habits: Falling for Vitamin A

Fall is just around the corner, bringing shorter days, cooler temperatures, and delicious fall vegetables and fruit.  Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and chard are available to change up your salad routine.  Vibrant orange vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, and winter squash are in season, bringing your recipes lots of flavors.  Mother Earth knows how to provide for her children.  With the shorter days and longer nights, our vision and immune systems need a little more help.  The previously mentioned food is in season, providing vitamin A.  

Vitamin A is an essential fat-soluble vitamin. The human body does not produce it, meaning we must eat it to reap its benefits. Vitamins, in general, are important to the body because they are what trigger chemical reactions in the body.  They do not provide energy, but they are crucial for the release of energy from carbohydrates, protein, and fats.  Growth and development, healthy red blood cell function, hormone production, and functioning of the nervous system rely on the presence of vitamins.  As mentioned earlier, it is fat-soluble, meaning that bile produced by the liver is necessary for the emulsification of fat.  The absorption of fat-soluble vitamins relies on a functioning liver.    

 The liver can store enough vitamin A for four years.  A diet low in vitamin A intake can lead to conditions such as poor eyesight, thickening of the conjunctiva and corneas, night blindness, growth impairments and infections in children, poor tissue health (including the gut and respiratory tract lining), reproduction issues, and dry skin.  Blood tests can help diagnose vitamin deficiencies.  In cases of deficiency, supplements may help remediate the problem. Although supplements may help, dietitians would highly recommend including whole food sources in the diet. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin A is 900 and 700 micrograms, for men and women, respectively.  Below, you’ll find ways to include fruit and vegetables high in vitamin A:

Carrots: have them juiced, sliced and steamed, roasted, spiralized, and shredded. Carrots make great additions to soup, stew, muffins, stir fry, or as side dishes. Try combining roasted carrots with butternut squash in a soup.

Sweet potatoes: have them baked, roasted, sauteed, mashed, stuffed, glazed, or chipped. Sprinkle a baked sweet potato with pumpkin spice seasoning for a fall treat, stuff them with taco meat and top with avocado, or make sweet potato skins.

Butternut squash: have it pureed, baked, roasted, or caramelized. Try making butternut squash pizza boats, baked ravioli with butternut squash chunks or sauce, butternut squash hash, or carbonara.  

Pumpkin: have it roasted, baked, pureed, in a pie, or bake the seeds.  Pumpkin will add girth to a beef and black bean chili, or butternut squash and carrot soup. Use mini pumpkins as a bowl for soup or chili.  It never fails to bring smiles to people in the form of pie.

Mango: have them diced, sliced, whole, or in gazpacho. Diced mangoes can be added to oatmeal, yogurt parfaits, frozen yogurt, or fruit salad.

Cantaloupe: have it made into sorbet, tea loaf, in a cucumber salad, or smoothie.


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