The ABCs of vitamin A
Better Nutrition|April 2020
This vital nutrient doesn’t get a lot of press, but it’s critical for eye health, white blood cell production, bone strength, organ function, and reproduction
By Lisa Turner

The term “vitamin A” is more complicated than you think. There are two dietary forms:

Preformed vitamin A, found in fish, eggs, dairy, and meat, doesn’t require conversion and is readily available and usable by the body.

Provitamin A carotenoids, found in plant foods, are converted by the body into retinol, the active form of vitamin A.

Beta-carotene is the primary provitamin A carotenoid. Unfortunately, the conversion process is highly inefficient, and only a small percentage of beta-carotene gets transformed into vitamin A. The process depends on a number of factors, especially healthy gut function and the presence of other nutrients including riboflavin, niacin, iron, zinc, and protein.

Not to say that’s entirely bad. Betacarotene that’s not converted into vitamin A circulates through the body and acts as an antioxidant, protecting the cells from free radical damage, lowering inflammation, and reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases.

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