Aug. 16, 2013 at 11:55 AM ET
Vitamin A may not get as much attention as other vitamins, but it's vital for your body to function at its best. “It helps create and maintain healthy teeth, bones and soft body tissues,” says Elisa Zied, a registered dietitian and author of the upcoming book Younger Next Week. “It also supports healthy skin and vision, protects against bacteria and viruses that can cause illnesses or infections and strengthens the immune system.”
If you don't get enough vitamin A, it can impact your health, though the deficiency is much more prevalent in developing nations. “The most common symptom of this deficiency is dry eyes. An early sign is night blindness,” says Melina B. Jampolis, M.D., a physician nutrition specialist and author of The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life. “Deficiencies can also increase the severity and risk of death from infections.”
You don't need to start popping vitamin A supplements to hit the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for this vitamin—it's easy to get enough through a balanced diet. You can get preformed vitamin A from animal products—like meat, fish, poultry and dairy—and pro-vitamin A in fruits and vegetables (the body then converts them into Vitamin A). The most common type of pro-vitamin A is the antioxidant beta-carotene, which Dr. Jampolis says may also help reduce inflammation associated with chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and age related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older Americans.
So how much vitamin A do you need daily? The RDA is 2,300 IU for women age 19 and older and 3,000 IU for men. Higher amounts are recommended for pregnant women (2,600 IU) and lactating women (4,300 IU) over 19, since vitamin A is important for a healthy pregnancy.
Just be careful not to go overboard on vitamin A—loading up on supplements and exceeding the RDA could be toxic and lead to health problems in extreme cases, like liver abnormalities, osteoporosis and even birth defects, according Mitzi Dulan, a registered dietitian and author of upcoming The Pinterest Diet. She also cautions that while not toxic, too much beta-carotene could turn your skin orange.
If you're looking to get more vitamin A in your diet, forgo supplements and stock up on these foods: