Do you ever wonder whether your child is getting enough vitamin A? He probably is, as most healthy children get plenty. However, in some children, such as those with autism or extreme picky eating, deficiency is becoming a reality.
The Low-Down on Vitamin A
Vitamin A is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins. It provides antioxidants that help protect little bodies from developing chronic diseases. It can be seen in many of the things that give color to your child’s world, from food and flowers, to animals and insects.
Vitamin A plays an important role with eyesight, skin, cell production, immune system, and protection from infections. Kids who eat diets high in this vitamin, especially from plant-based sources, have been shown to live longer and have fewer illnesses. That means fewer sick days and associated visits to the pediatrician.
Where can You Find Vitamin A?
You may have heard a lot of confusing terms associated with this vitamin, especially in relation to veggies and skin health. Vitamin A is a broad term used to classify a long list of similar compounds with distinct functions.
The two main forms are retinoids, found in animal sources, and carotenoids, which are mostly found in plant sources. Because they are a little different, they fulfill different biological needs.
Sweet potatoes, liver, and carrots are among the highest concentrations in food, but there are many other good sources. The vegetable food group represents the balance and blend of both retinoids and carotenoids for your child–using this guide is your best bet to taking the guess work out of feeding.
Animal Sources of Vitamin A:
- egg yolks
- cheddar cheese
- milk (fortified)
Plant Sources of Vitamin A:
- orange, yellow, red, and many dark-green leafy veggies
- breakfast cereal (fortified)
Signs of Deficiency
Although unlikely, a deficiency of this nutrient can cause many serious problems, starting in the womb. In addition to some birth defects and poor growth in childhood, there is an increased risk of fertility problems later in life.
Deficiency can also lower immunity, cause dry and scaly skin, and wreak havoc with vision. In fact, it is so important to eyesight that the ancient Egyptians used foods high in Vitamin A to treat night blindness before vitamins were even discovered.
Children with malabsorption problems, such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and autism, are more prone to vitamin deficiencies and may need supplementation; get advice from a medical professional or Registered Dietitian for safe supplementation.
Vitamin A is stored by the body and it is possible to get too much. It’s unlikely to overdose with diet alone, but extra supplementation should be done with caution. Excessive intake can cause such serious problems as birth defects, nerve and liver damage, skin problems, temporary yellowing of the skin, and abnormal bone growth, just to name a few.
In addition to its many health benefits, sources of Vitamin A are also pleasing to the palate and a beautiful addition to any meal. Although most Americans are unlikely to be deficient, Vitamin A food sources should make a regular appearance at family meals and snacks.
It is one of the four vitamins required on all food labels, making it easy to assess how much your child is getting from the foods you buy.