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Safeguarding Your Sight: How Vitamin A Helps Protect against Vision Loss

Safeguarding Your Sight: How Vitamin A Helps Protect against Vision Loss

updated

Many people are aware that vitamin A is essential to healthy vision. While getting the recommended amount of vitamin A won't necessarily improve the quality of your eyesight, it will help to defend against common eye disorders and even certain forms of blindness. A number of foods contain vitamin A, and making sure that your diet is rich in such foods will help to ensure that your vision remains as strong and healthy as possible.

Why is Vitamin A Important?

Vitamin A is an antioxidant that helps your body maintain healthy epithelial tissue, which coats and protects the various organs of your body, including your eyes. Without this valuable vitamin, eye tissue shrinks and hardens, which can lead to a number of eye problems, including dry eye, corneal ulcers, hypersensitivity to light, itchiness, inflammation, and even permanent vision loss. Research has shown that vitamin A helps to prevent these conditions and may even help to protect against cataracts.

One of the initial signs of inadequate vitamin A intake is a condition called night blindness. This condition occurs when there is insufficient rhodopsin, a protein synthesized by vitamin A, in the retina. A person with night blindness experiences difficulty seeing at night and has trouble adjusting visually when they move from well-lit to areas of low light. Night blindness also causes a person to become temporarily "blind" after being exposed to bright light, such as that from a car's headlights.

Although vitamin A deficiency is common in many developing countries, it rarely occurs in the United States due to the high level of vitamin A in our foods.

Getting Your Daily Dose

According to the National Academy of Sciences' Food and Nutrition Board, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin A is 3,000 International Units (900 micrograms) for men aged 19 and older, and 2,310 International Units (700 micrograms) for women of the same age. The RDA specifies the average daily intake levels needed to satisfy the nutrient requirements of most healthy individuals in different age and gender groups.

Foods that contain high amounts of vitamin A include animal products like eggs, milk, meat, and cheese. Vitamin A is also found in fortified form in many breakfast cereals. Another good source of vitamin A is foods that contain the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene. The body converts beta-carotene into one of the most usable (active) forms of vitamin A available. Foods rich in beta-carotene include carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, and other yellow-orange fruits and vegetables, as well as spinach, broccoli, and most leafy, dark green vegetables.

Amount of Vitamin A Derived from Various Animal Foods

Food

Vitamin A (IU)*

Liver, beef, cooked, 3 oz.

27,185

Liver, chicken, cooked, 3oz.

12,325

Milk, fortified skim, 1 cup

500

Cheese, cheddar, 1 oz.

284

Milk, whole (3.25% fat), 1 cup

249

Egg substitute, ¼ cup

226

Amount of Vitamin A (from Beta-Carotene) Derived from Various Plant Foods¹

 

Food

 

Vitamin A (IU)*

Carrot juice, canned, ½ cup

22,567

Carrots, boiled, ½ cup

13,418

Spinach, frozen, boiled, ½ cup

11,458

Kale, frozen, boiled, ½ cup

9,558

Carrot, uncooked, (7½ in.)

8,666

Vegetable soup, canned, chunky, ready-to-eat, 1 cup

5,820

Cantaloupe, cubed, 1 cup

5,411

Spinach, uncooked, 1 cup

2,813

Apricots w/ skin, juice box, ½ cup

2,063

Apricot nectar, canned, ½ cup

1,651

Papaya, cubed, 1 cup

1,532

Mango, slices, 1 cup

1,262

Instant oatmeal, fortified, plain, made w/ water, 1 cup

1,252

Peas, frozen, boiled, ½ cup

1,050

Tomato juice, canned, 6 oz.

819

Peaches, canned, juice box, ½ cup

473

Peach, medium size

319

Pepper, sweet, red, raw, 1 ring (3 in. diam. x ¼ in. thick)

313

Tips on Managing Your Vitamin A Intake

  • In general, the body uses vitamin A derived from animal sources more efficiently than vitamin A from plant sources.
  • Vitamin A is fat soluble, which means your body will more readily absorb it when you consume it with dietary fats.
  • The vitamin A content of a particular fruit or vegetable is roughly the same whether the food is fresh, frozen, or canned. Canned vegetables, however, often have high amounts of sodium, while canned fruits packed in syrup tend to be high in sugar.

¹ U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2004. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp.

*IU = International Units. The U.S. Food and Nutrition Board recommends that men aged 19 and older get 3,000 IU of vitamin A each day, and that women of the same age get 2,310 IU. Note: Food and supplement labels contain an older set of guidelines called the "Daily Values," which includes 5,000 IU for vitamin A.

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