A source of true Vitamin A: liver is better than carrots
From our childhood we remember that Vitamin A (essential for adequate development, good vision etc.) is found in vegetables like carrots, bell pepper, pumpkin, sweet potato etc. The truth is that all these vegetables contain only the precursor to Vitamin A, carotenoids. We need to be consuming other foods to get the daily norm of Vitamin A.
Retinoids vs. carotenoids
The most important fact about vitamin A is the difference between retinoids and carotenoids. The vitamin A from animal sources is retinoids, also called retinol, while plant source vitamin A is carotenoids, such as beta carotene and its precursor.
Animal sources of retinol are bio-available, which means the body can easily digest it. The vitamin A from plant sources, in contrast, must first be converted to retinol to be useful in the body. This poses two big problems.
First, when we are in good health, it requires at least six units of carotenes to convert into 1 unit of retinol (source). To put this in perspective, that means one must eat 2 kg of carrots to potentially get the amount of Vitamin A as in 90 g of beef liver.
What happens if we have digestive issues, hormone imbalances, or other health problems? It requires even more carrots to eat.
Second, the problem is not only in the amount of beta carotene. The process of conversion depends on many factors and unfortunately, not everyone can get their portion of Vitamin A. This conversion is virtually insignificant:
- In infants
- In those with poor thyroid function (hypothyroidism)
- In those with diabetes
- In those who are on a low fat diet or have a history of low fat dieting
- In those who have compromised bile production (gallbladder and digestive problems)
Although beta carotene is an antioxidant, it is not true vitamin A. What should we do? Look for other sources of Vitamin A.
Sources of true retinole:
- Liver from any animal, enjoy pasture-raised liver 2-3 times per week or take desiccated liver capsulesdaily if you do not like liver.
- Cod liver.
- Egg yolksfrom hens foraging in pasture, ideally enjoy 2-4 egg yolks per day and there is no need to worry about the cholesterol.
- Heavy cream, again ideally, from grass fed cows.
In short, organic liver is the best source of vitamin A. Men, women, children, including, babies should consume it. Those who can not stand liver can take it in capsules
Vitamin A sources for vegetarians and vegans
As you can see, true vitamin A foods come from animal sources. A vegan diet simply does not provide the body with adequate vitamin A for optimal health. A vegan diet also reduces thyroid function and bile release, which drastically compromises the already poor carotene-to-cartenoid conversion.
Traditional cuisines of any culture on our planet include foods from animal sources into their diets. Vegetarians can get Vitamin A from egg yolks and dairy products.
Vitamin A deficiency and health problems
The Weston A. Price Foundation (Weston Price was a dentist known primarily for his theories on the relationships between health and diet) offers recommendations on vitamin A intake: “From the work of Weston Price, we can assume that the amount in primitive diets was about 50,000 IU per day, which could be achieved in a modern diet by consuming generous amounts of whole milk, cream, butter and eggs from pastured animals; beef or duck liver several times per week or 1/2 tablespoon of cod liver oil per day”.
It is necessary to clarify, however, that the daily norm for Vitamin A (retinol) is 3000 IU and tolerable upper intake level for adults is 10 000 IU. It is officially not recommended to consume more Vitamin A than this amount.
50 000 IU a day? Yes, you read it right. According to the main work by Price “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration”, this amount was necessary for earlier people to survive.
Due to the lack of true vitamin A foods in our modern diet, we face an epidemic of vitamin A deficiency. This contributes to the widespread health issues including:
- Hormonal imbalances
- Mood disorders
- Skin problems including eczema and acne
- Poor immune system
- Thyroid disorders like hypothyroidis
Vitamin A toxicity: should we be concerned?
Many people were frightened by the reports about Vitamin A toxicity leading to problems with health and even birth defects. The studies that found this link use synthetic vitamin A. As with all synthetic vitamins, synthetic A lacks the complex cofactors and “living” integrity of natural A that allows the body to actually utilize the vitamin.
Since the body doesn’t really know how to use the fake vitamin, it accumulates it in the body and can become toxic at moderate levels. In this way, synthetic vitamin A is more of a toxin than a nutrient. Try to avoid multivitamins and fortified grain products to reduce exposure to synthetic Vitamin A. Remember that the best supplement to get Vitamin A is liver pills. According to Dr. Price, non-isolated, natural vitamin A does not cause problems even in high amounts.
Combination with Vitamin D
An important thing for health is the combination of Vitamins A and D. Vitamins A and D work hand-in-hand: D helps the body utilize vitamin A and prevents toxicity of the natural vitamin According to Dr. Price, it was vitamin D (from foods or sun light) that allowed earlier people digest huge amounts of retinol.
And again, cod liver oil offers a perfect balance of these two vitamins in a bio-available form. Absolutely all people from babies to pregnant women to elderly people receive a great benefit from consuming cod liver oil every day.
If you do not want to take supplements, have lab tests for Vitamin D deficit (or the absence of it). Of course, do not skip daily walks outside because they give you several benefits. If you take a sunbath in Spain or California or somewhere near these places, then in12 minutes you receive 3000 IU of Vitamin D under condition that 50% of your body is exposed to the sunlight. This covers the daily norm for Vitamin D.
Do not forget the fat!
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. So, we can neither consume adequate vitamin A or absorb this vitamin A if we are on a low fat diet. Fortunately, Mother Nature, in all of her wisdom, designed the foods rich in true vitamin A to contain the fat we need to utilize the vitamin.
For example, butter and lard stimulate bile release and therefore aid in A absorption and the conversion of carotenoids. Although these fats nourished our ancestors, animal fats were shunned by recent generations due to poor science. Fortunately, the low fat era is coming to an end as we shed light on the fact that old fashioned fats are good for us (and tasty)!