The beautiful orange of a carrot . . . the golden glow of winter squash . . . Like a neon sign, these foods' sunny colors shout, "Good Nutrition Found Here!"
You probably already knew carrots and squash are nutritious. But did you know why they're so good for you?
The yellow and orange hues signal the presence of vitamin A. Although hidden by the green of chlorophyll, vitamin A also enriches leafy greens like spinach and chard and the emerald alga, chlorella.
Vitamin A makes a huge difference in your health.
But before we get into the specifics, let's answer the fundamental question . . .
What Is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient, essential for life.
Billions of years ago, vitamin A was used to form special light-sensing proteins that helped early organisms orient themselves to the sun and make the most of its energy.
In the plant world, vitamin A has a long history of working side-by-side with the green pigment chlorophyll to harvest of light energy from the sun.
Vitamin A plays a fundamental role in how life on this planet maximizes its use of sunlight.
Which brings us to your first reason to eat foods rich in vitamin A . . .
Vitamin A Helps With Vision
As we've evolved from bacteria to human, we've held onto the power of light-sensing vitamin A rich proteins, called "opsins".
If you don't get enough vitamin A in your diet, you won't be able to make these proteins essential for vision. Consequently, vitamin A deficiency can lead to vision problems. In fact, worldwide vitamin A deficiency is one of the leading causes of blindness.
But vitamin A's role in the body has evolved to impact more than just vision health . . .
Vitamin A Keeps Your Immune System Strong
Without vitamin A, your immune system won't do much good. Even kids who are mildly vitamin A deficient end up with a much higher risk of respiratory diseases and diarrhea.
Firstly, vitamin A seems to help our white blood cells differentiate. Instead of being just another cop on patrol, these cells gain the rank of detective thanks in part to vitamin A. Consequently, you can have a more sophisticated internal defense force.
Secondly, your body produces a special molecule with vitamin A that tells these same white blood cells and other immune cells to get active.
But there's a third way vitamin A helps strengthen your immunity.
Vitamin A Keeps Your Skin Healthy
In an earlier article on natural skin care, holistic dermatologist Dr. Andrew Racette noted that vitamin A is one of his favorite nutrients for skin health. He pointed out that this skin-loving vitamin seems to play a role in the production of collagen and your skin's ability to hold onto water.
These skin-nourishing qualities explain why vitamin A seems to reduce wrinkles so well!
But it's not just a vanity vitamin when it comes to skin . . .
Some nutritionists call vitamin A the "anti-infective nutrient”  because it plays such a key role in keeping your body's first defensive barrier - your skin and
The Trick To Healthy Vitamin A Nutrition
Along with all this good stuff about vitamin A, there's a
Vitamin A can also be toxic. Too much vitamin A has been linked to increased risk for lung cancer and birth defects, for example.
But before you get nervous, consider this simple solution:
See, most whole food sources don't contain vitamin A, but beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is also called pre-vitamin A. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Beta-carotene from whole food sources are safe. Your body carefully limits the amount of Vitamin A you get by regulating the amount of beta-carotene it converts into vitamin A.
If you eat more beta-carotene than your body can use, your body simply gets rid of the extra. In contrast, the vitamin A found in supplements gets stored in your fat where it can build up to unhealthy levels.
And when it comes to a rich and easy whole food source of pre-vitamin A nutrition, I recommend chlorella. Ounce per ounce, chlorella is a vitamin A powerhouse, giving you six times the vitamin A as spinach. It's one of the best sources of this nutrient.
And it's easy to take - just chew a few chlorella tablets in the morning.
So feed your eyes, immune system and skin. By eating pre-vitamin A rich foods, you can be sure you're giving your body this essential nutrient safely.
About Dr. Michael E Rosenbaum, MD
Dr. Michael E. Rosenbaum earned his Medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City and his Master of Sciences degree
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 Azocar, J et al. Efficacy and safety of Chlorella supplementation in adults with chronic hepatitis C virus infection. World J Gastroenterol. 2013 February 21; 19(7): 1085-1090