The small intestine damage caused by Celiac disease (CD) leads to to poor nutrients absorption. That means no matter how many nutritious foods we eat prior to our CD diagnosis, all those vitamins and minerals we’re consuming simply cannot get into our bloodstream.
One vitamin individuals with CD are often lacking enough of is vitamin A.
Vitamin A is responsible for optimal immune function (very important since CD is an autoimmune disorder) and vision, as well as playing a vital role in reproductive function and communication between cells in the body.
These are some indicators of vitamin A deficiency.
Signs of Vitamin A Deficiency
- Impaired vision (like night blindness)
- Other eye problems (like dry or red eyes)
- Dry or rough skin
- Poor digestion
- Dry mouth
- Frequent infections (like those of the sinus, ears or respiratory tract)
- Reproductive issues (like infertility or inability to carry a fetus to term)
Even after adhering to a strict gluten free diet, some of us will continue to struggle with getting enough vitamin A.
That’s where nutrient-dense in-season produce comes in!
For example, pumpkins are in season from October through December, so they are plentiful right now making them super-affordable. (Not to mention all the wonderful gluten free pumpkin recipes floating around the web these days!)
Of course, there’s more to know about vitamin A than telling you to eat more pumpkin in the fall.
So we fully understand where to get our vitamin A and how to know how much we’re really getting in our diet, let’s look at what nutrition science says.
Vitamin A – What You Really Need to Know
Pumpkin, our example above, doesn’t actually contain vitamin A; however, it does contain high levels of the antioxidant beta-carotene which is converted into vitamin A by our bodies.
While that’s probably not news to anyone, it may surprise some of us to learn vitamin A does not come from a single source. In fact, it isn’t even a single vitamin.
Vitamin A is a name given to a group of fat-soluble compounds called retinoids.
These are compounds are similar in form and function to vitamin A, so think of them as a group of related substances. They include retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, and retinyl esters. (Most of us have heard of retinol before as an ingredient in anti-wrinkle creams.)
However, the vitamin A story is more interesting than that. Knowing the following information can help us make sure we’re getting the right amount of vitamin A.
There are two forms of vitamin A available to us through diet:
1. Preformed vitamin A – In foods derived from animal sources like dairy products, fish and meat (particularly liver).
2. Provitamin A carotenoids – The most well known is beta-carotene (there are other carotenoids that contain vitamin A in lower levels). Our bodies transform beta-carotene into vitamin A.
Regardless of the source of vitamin A in our diet, a series of chemical reactions must occur to convert those sources into the active forms of vitamin A to be useful to us in biological functions.
So, now that we know what vitamin A is and that there are two sources of it, we need to determine how much the average healthy adult should be getting each day.
Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin A
Both forms of vitamin A listed above are converted into what nutrition scientists callphysiologically available retinol (just a fancy way to say the amount of retinol, or active vitamin A, our bodies can use); however, those two forms of vitamin A aren’t equallyconverted.
For this reason, the preferred standard measurement for vitamin A is Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE). This differs from the more familiar units of measure, micrograms (mcg) and International Units (IU), used for vitamins and minerals.
The RAE measurement is based on the potency and source of vitamin A.
For example, 1 microgram (mcg) of retinol from preformed vitamin A (say, if you ate liver) is equal to 1 mcg RAE.
However, it would take 12 mcg of provitamin A carotenoid (from beta-carotene in pumpkin or another orange veggie or fruit) to equal 1 mcg RAE.
If you’re more comfortable seeing International Units (IU), no worries. Although this is an older standard of measurement, it is still used, especially on supplement information labels. One mcg RAE is equal to 3.3 IU.
For healthy adults age 19 and over, the recommended daily intake of vitamin A is 900 mcg RAE for males and 700 mcg RAE for females.
In IU, that would be approximately 3000 IU for adult males and approximately 2300 IU for adult females.
Now that we know how much vitamin A we need, let’s check out the best sources of this vital vitamin.
Best Sources of Vitamin A on Our Gluten Free Diet
Research indicates, and I know first hand from my experience and training in natural products research, it is best to get the nutrients our bodies need from real foods versus supplements.
With so many beta-carotene rich fruits and veggies in season right now, that’s easy to do!
In addition to the animal products and orange-fleshed foods mentioned earlier, enjoy cantaloupe, red peppers, mango and even that pumpkin pie that may show up on the holiday table to stay on your nutritional “A Game”!
If you love pumpkin pie but prefer a healthier version of that classic holiday treat, you can drink up all the festive flavor in my Gluten Free Vegan Pumpkin Pie in a Glass (that’s it in the picture up top).
I love making this with my Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice; I know you will, too.
Check them both out and enjoy getting your vitamin A the natural, healthy way!
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