Vitamin A

Vitamin A

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A Course In Nutrition:  Learning Your A, B, C’s

I just finished teaching my Spring classes at Nutrition Therapy Institute and the students are very happy to have a two-week break before the Summer session starts. One of my students sent me an email asking me how I keep all this information stored in my head. They were sharing that they felt a little overwhelmed and wondered how they could possibly remember everything they were just taught. It got me thinking about all of you who read this blog on a regular basis. You are all on different journeys. And, you all have different desires related to improved health, too.

As I shared with you on my last blog, I wasn’t always a follower of healthy eating habits. And, like many, many people, it was a health challenge that sent me down the path to understanding how nutrition plays a role in overall health. Since none of us are born with an extensive knowledge of nutrition, I thought it might be helpful, and fun, to start at the beginning.

Most everyone has heard of Vitamin A, B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and some might have even heard of Vitamin K. However, how many of you thought about the role of each of these vitamins in your health?

Heck, how many of you have thought about what a vitamin really is? Here’s the definition, paraphrased from Albert Szent-Gyorgyi , Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1937: 

  • Vitamins (vital amines) are organic compounds that are required in the diet because they cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities by an organism. (In this case, he’s referring to us, as humans.)

For the next few weeks, I’ll address each vitamin individually.

I’ll talk about its specific role in your overall health. I’ll talk about what foods are good sources of the specific vitamin. I’ll talk about what happens if you don’t get enough of the vitamin. I’ll talk about how to tell if you might be deficient in the vitamin.

And…..of course…..I’ll share a recipe that is loaded with the highlighted vitamin.

At the end of this series, you will absolutely know more about the role of these individual vitamins and how they can improve your health and the health of your family members. Heck, you might even become so inspired that you decide to use this knowledge to begin your journey as a Nutrition Therapist Master 😊

Vitamin A

Since the letter A is at the start of our alphabet, seems like Vitamin A is a great place to start our journey. Let me see a show of hands… many of you learned, as small children, that Vitamin A helped with good eyesight and that carrots were a good source of this vitamin?  Most of you… right? This is partially true, but there is so much more to learn about this key nutrient.

There are two forms of vitamin A…..sort of.

  • Preformed Vitamin A
    • Also known as retinol
  • Provitamin A
    • Beta-Carotene is the term most people have heard

As mentioned above, Vitamin A is important for normal vision, however, it is so much more than that. It’s also a key vitamin that supports your immune system. As you can see, being deficient in this vitamin will cause more than just vision problems. 

If you or a loved one tends to pick up any ‘bug’ that comes along, it might be a good indicator that a low level of vitamin A is preventing your immune system from functioning properly.  Vitamin A was initially coined “the anti-infective vitamin” because of its importance in the normal functioning of the immune system. 

It’s important to understand that your immune system works in two stages:

  • Innate Immune System
    • In simplified terms, this is the part of the immune system that provides ‘barrier’ protection against pathogens (bad bugs and germs).
      • Skin, without cracks and cuts, prevents entry of pathogens.
      • Hair, on skin, in nose, ears, etc, captures and sequesters pathogens from entering our body.
      • Enzymes in our saliva and tears can also kill pathogens, preventing them from getting into general circulation.
  • Adaptive Immune System
    • If pathogens make it through our innate immune system, and get to our blood stream, our adaptive immune system will kick into gear, and create antibodies to kill the invader.
      • This is where our white blood cells are activated.
        • Their sole purpose is to mount an immune response and attack invaders that show up where they shouldn’t be.

Vitamin A is crucial in allowing our Innate Immune System and Adaptive Immune System to function correctly. (2)

  • This vitamin plays a key role in building and maintaining healthy mucosa, to enhance your innate immune system.
    • When levels are low, we don’t have a healthy barrier to keep the bad guys out
  • It also plays a key role in activating B cells and T cells, which are important players in your adaptive immune system. 
    • If levels are low, we won’t effectively activate our white blood cells to create antibodies against the pathogens that made it to our blood stream

In the world we are living in today, a healthy immune system has never been more important. If we have our key players in place, when a pathogen shows up, we are well-armed to fight ‘em off.

Now that you have a better understanding of the importance of Vitamin A, let’s talk about some signs that you might be deficient in this area.

  • Dry and/or cracking skin
    • Remember, we mentioned that Vitamin A creates our healthy mucosa so that your innate immune system can function properly.
  • Poor wound healing
    • Again, your body is not creating healthy mucosal tissue.
  • Dry eyes
    • Remember, we talked about tears and saliva protecting us, too.
  • Night Blindness
  • Infertility

If there’s a chance that your levels of Vitamin A are not optimal, a tweak in the foods you’re eating can get you back on track.  


Early on in this blog, we mentioned that there is more than one form of Vitamin A.

  • Preformed Vitamin A comes from animal products:
    • Liver wins…..hands down, (with over 700% of RDA in 3 oz serving) but there are other options, too (1)
      • It’s easy to hide liver in meatloaf and burgers by grinding it up in a food processor and mixing it in the ground beef. I usually add 4 ounces of liver to 1 pound of ground beef. No one knows it’s there. WIN-WIN
    • Fish oils…..add salmon, sardines, tuna to your weekly rotation
    • Egg yolks….1 yolk has 25% of RDA
  • Provitamin A – Commonly called Beta-Carotene is mostly found in plants:
    • Sweet potatoes, with peeling, wins….hands down, with almost 200% of RDA
    • Spinach
    • Pumpkin
    • Carrots

It’s important to get Vitamin A in both forms. Enzymes are required to convert Beta-Carotene to Vitamin A, in a form we can use. If there are problems in your digestive tract, you might not readily make these enzymes, or not in enough quantities.  But, these plant foods also have phytonutrients that perform many other health functions, so it’s important to eat them.

Preformed Vitamin A, from animal sources, are in a form that is much easier for us to absorb.

In summary:

  • Vitamin A helps vision….
    • But is really important for immune function
      • required for mucosal synthesis (innate immune)
      • required for B-cell and T-cell synthesis (adaptive immune)
    • Deficiency often shows up as skin disorders
    • Comes from animal and plant sources
      • important to eat from BOTH sources
      • can easily add a few foods to get optimal amounts daily

You don’t need to run to the store to pick up Vitamin A supplements (and probably shouldn’t). It’s easy to optimize your levels with the recipes listed below.

Salmon Spinach Salad

With summer in full swing, the recipe options will be easy to prepare.



  • 1 salmon fillet (6 ounces) (preformed Vit A)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette, divided
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach (provitamin A)
  • 1/4 cup cubed avocado
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower kernels
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate kernels, or blueberries
  • 1 hard-boiled egg (preformed Vit A)


  1. Drizzle salmon with 1 tablespoon vinaigrette. Place on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Broil 3-4 in. from the heat for 10-15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Cut salmon into 2 pieces.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss spinach with remaining vinaigrette. Divide between 2 plates. Top with the salmon, avocado, walnuts, sunflower kernels, hard-boiled egg, and pomegranate.

Burger & Sweet Potato Fries

Ingredients For Burger

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 4 oz beef liver (ground in food processor) (preformed Vit A)
  • ¼ to ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 egg (preformed Vit A)
  • 2 oz tomato sauce
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste

Directions For Burger

  1. Mix well, divide into 4 patties
  2. Pan fry or cook on grill to preferred level of ‘doneness’

Ingredients For Fries

  1. Wash sweet potato, but do not peel (Provitamin A)
  2. ½ – 1 tbs olive oil
  3. ½ tsp garlic powder
  4. ½ tsp onion powder
  5. ¼ tsp smoked paprika
  6. ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  7. Salt & Pepper, to taste


  1. Mix oil and all spices
  2. Julienne sweet potato to preferred size
  3. Rub oil mixture over potatoes until well coated
  4. If cooking on grill, wrap in foil and place on bottom rack for 10 minutes
  5. Move up to top rack for 10 additional minutes.
  6. If cooking in oven, place in 400 degree oven on baking sheet
  7. Cook for 10 minutes
  8. Flip potatoes
  9. Cook additional 10 minutes

Here’s to your health! Bon Appetite

About the author:

Dr Becky Spacke is a course instructor at Nutrition Therapy Institute. Additionally, she has a private practice focused on minimizing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease as a qualified ReCODE practitioner.




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