Good immune health requires vitamin A in the diet. Widely available in fish, liver, dairy and eggs, as well as yellow and orange fruit and vegetables, there’s little chance of going short.

Requirements for vitamin A increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding, for the health of both mother and baby. This vitamin aids development of eye sight, the immune system, iron metabolism, healthy skin and gene expression. 

Vitamin A supports:

  • Enhances immune responses – Reduces risk of infections and promotes wellness.
  • Healthy skin and mucous membranes – Maintains skin integrity and naturally moisturises.
  • Eyesight and night vision – Supports development of vision and promotes eye health.
  • Recycling of Iron – Maintains healthy iron levels, reducing risks of anaemia.
  • Gene Expression – Promotes growth and development of organs in babies.

Vitamin A in Pregnancy

Daily requirements of vitamin A in pregnancy, increase by 100 micrograms (mcg) to 700 mcg. However, caution is suggested in pregnancy due to vitamin A’s risk of toxicity at high levels. Links to foetal abnormalities, have meant the NHS recommend avoiding liver, pates and vitamin A supplements, including fish oils. 

Vitamin A works alongside vitamin D in gene expression, so is essential for your baby’s growth and development, including healthy lungs, kidneys, heart, eyes and other organs.

Vitamin A in Breastfeeding

This is a vitamin with a huge number of very important roles in a newborn baby’s development. A 350 mcg increase is recommended during lactation, taking the mothers Recommended Daily Intake (RNI) to 950 mcg. Vitamin A plays an integral part in developing a healthy immune system, a major role in visual functioning and works synergistically with iron metabolism.

Adequate vitamin A intake helps recycle iron and therefore reduces risks of anaemia postnatally for women. Not to forget the antioxidant properties of the vegetable source ‘beta-carotenes’ which help eliminate free radicals reducing risks of disease.

How to obtain Vitamin A in the Diet
There are 2 sources, an active primary form called ‘retinol’ found in animal produce, such as fish, liver, eggs and dairy. This is the pre-formed vitamin A. The pro-formed secondary source, mainly in the form of beta-carotenes, are found mostly in green, yellow and orange vegetables and fruit. The animal sources are very bioavailable and provide a higher amount of vitamin A. The non-animal foods need to be converted in the body and more is needed to obtain the daily requirements. However, beta-carotenes, from the plant sources, also act as powerful anti-oxidants. Unless you are vegetarian or vegan it is beneficial to obtain vitamin A from a mix of both animal and vegetable sources.

It’s important to be aware that up to 45% of people carry a genetic polymorphism which reduces their bodies ability to convert beta-carotene into retinol (the active form of vitamin A). This condition can cause problems for vegetarian or vegans, as they may gain considerably less vitamin A from vegetables. If you suspect this is a problem, you should seek advice from your GP, Dietician or a Nutritional Therapist.

Which Foods Contain Vitamin A?

Animal Sources:

  • Liver – The highest source of vitamin A, providing up to 713% of the RDA. Due to concerns over toxicity at high levels, the NHS suggest avoiding liver in pregnancy.
  • Mackerel – Half a fillet is around 388 mcg – 43% RDA
  • Salmon – 100 grams provides 149 mcg – 17% RDA
  • Tuna – 100 grams provides 757 mug – 84% RDA
  • Other white fish are also a good source.
  • Dairy products – 100 grams of Cheese or Butter provides around 10% RDA
  • Eggs – 1 hard boiled egg provides 74 mcg – 8% RDA

Vegetable Sources:  

  • Cooked Sweet Potatoes – 100 grams provide 1043 mcg – 116% RDA
  • winter Squash – 100 grams provide 558 mcg – 62% RDA
  • Cooked Kale – 100 grams provide 681 mcg – 76% RDA
  • Cooked Collards – 100 grams provide 380 mcg – 42% RDA
  • Cooked Carrots – 100 grams provide 852 mcg – 95% RDA
  • Raw Red pepper, Swiss Chard, Spinach & Romaine Lettuce – All provide around 15 – 30% of the RDA
  • Fruits – Mango, Grapefruit, Watermelon, Papaya, Apricot – provide around 10 – 20% of the RDA.

* To maximise vitamin availability from the vegetables, some are better cooked, whilst others can be eaten raw.