vitamin information

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In which foods does one find vitamin A?

Retinol is found in animal foods such as whole eggs, milk, and liver. Most fat-free milk and dried nonfat milk solids sold in the United States are fortified with vitamin A to replace the amount lost when the fat is removed . Fortified foods such as fortified breakfast cereals also provide vitamin A. Provitamin A carotenoids are abundant in darkly colored fruits and vegetables. The 2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicated that major dietary contributors of retinol are milk, margarine, eggs, beef liver and fortified ready-to-eat cereals, whereas major contributors of provitamin A carotenoids are carrots, cantaloupes, sweet potatoes, and spinach.

Animal sources of vitamin A are well absorbed and used efficiently by the body. Plant sources of vitamin A are not as well absorbed as animal sources. Tables 1 and 2 suggest many sources of vitamin A and provitamin A carotenoids.

Table 1: Selected animal sources of vitamin A
FoodVitamin A (IU)*%DV**
Liver, beef, cooked, 3 ounces27,185545
Liver, chicken, cooked, 3 ounces12,325245
Milk, fortified skim, 1 cup50010
Cheese, cheddar, 1 ounce2846
Milk, whole (3.25% fat), 1 cup2495
Egg substitute, ¼ cup2265

Table 2: Selected plant sources of vitamin A (from beta-carotene)
FoodVitamin A (IU)*%DV**
Carrot juice, canned, ½ cup22,567450
Carrots, boiled, ½ cup slices13,418270
Spinach, frozen, boiled, ½ cup11,458230
Kale, frozen, boiled, ½ cup9,558190
Carrots, 1 raw (7½ inches)8,666175
Vegetable soup, canned, chunky, ready-to-serve, 1 cup5,820115
Cantaloupe, 1 cup cubes5,411110
Spinach, raw, 1 cup2,81355
Apricots with skin, juice pack, ½ cup2,06340
Apricot nectar, canned, ½ cup1,65135
Papaya, 1 cup cubes1,53230
Mango, 1 cup sliced1,26225
Oatmeal, instant, fortified, plain, prepared with water, 1 cup1,25225
Peas, frozen, boiled, ½ cup1,05020
Tomato juice, canned, 6 ounces81915
Peaches, canned, juice pack, ½ cup halves or slices47310
Peach, 1 medium3196
Pepper, sweet, red, raw, 1 ring (3 inches diameter by ¼ inch thick)3136

* IU = International Units.
** DV = Daily Value. DVs are reference numbers based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs). They were developed to help consumers determine if a food contains a lot or a little of a nutrient. The DV for vitamin A is 5,000 IU. Most food labels do not list vitamin A content. The percent DV (%DV) column in the table above indicates the percentage of the DV provided in one serving. A food providing 5% or less of the DV is a low source while a food that provides 10-19% of the DV is a good source. A food that provides 20% or more of the DV is high in that nutrient. It is important to remember that foods that provide lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet. For foods not listed in this table, refer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Database Web site:

Recommended intakes of vitamin A are as follows:

Recommendations for vitamin A are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). DRI is the general term for a set of reference values used for planning and assessing nutrient intake in healthy people. Three important types of reference values included in the DRIs are Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), Adequate Intakes (AI), and Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL). The RDA recommends the average daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97-98%) healthy individuals in each age and gender group. An AI is set when there are insufficient scientific data to establish a RDA. AIs meet or exceed the amount needed to maintain nutritional adequacy in nearly all people. The UL, on the other hand, is the maximum daily intake unlikely to result in adverse health effects.

In Table 3, RDAs for vitamin A are listed as micrograms (mcg) of Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE) to account for the different biological activities of retinol and provitamin A carotenoids. Table 3 also lists RDAs for vitamin A in International Units (IU), which are used on food and supplement labels (1 RAE = 3.3 IU).

Table 3: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for vitamin A
(mcg RAE)
(mcg RAE)
(mcg RAE)
(mcg RAE)
(mcg RAE)
(1,000 IU)

(1,320 IU)

(2,000 IU)

(3,000 IU)
(2,310 IU)
(2,500 IU)
(4,000 IU)
(3,000 IU)
(2,310 IU)
(2,565 IU)
(4,300 IU)

There is insufficient information to establish a RDA for vitamin A for infants. AIs have been established based on the amount of vitamin A consumed by healthy infants fed breast milk (Table 4) [1].

Table 4: Adequate Intakes (AIs) for vitamin A for infants
Age (months)Males and females (mcg RAE)
0-6400 (1,320 IU)
7-12500 (1,650 IU)

The NHANES III survey (1988-1994) found that most Americans consume recommended amounts of vitamin A. More recent NHANES data (1999-2000) show average adult intakes to be about 3,300 IU per day, which also suggests that most Americans get enough vitamin A.

There is no RDA for beta-carotene or other provitamin A carotenoids. The IOM states that consuming 3 to 6 mg of beta-carotene daily (equivalent to 833-1,667 IU vitamin A) will maintain blood levels of beta-carotene in the range associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases. A diet that provides five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day and includes some dark green and leafy vegetables and deep yellow or orange fruits should provide sufficient beta-carotene and other carotenoids.



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