Tuesday, February 1, 2011

vitamin a: what does it do?

i record my food every day, and i've been paying a lot more attention lately to my vitamin and mineral intake. in fact, i consider it a challenge to get all deep green boxes in a particular meal or snack, which basically is a high five from the nutrition police.

i like high fives.

what i've noticed lately is that, for some reason, it's exceptionally easy for me to get high fives for vitamin a.  while that's awesome in theory, i wanted to understand why vitamin a is important and why it's apparently so easy for me, in the course of a regular day, to get so much of it.

so i turned to dr. google, and here's what i learned:
  • your eyes love it! vitamin a helps the retina to decipher low light. when you don't have enough, you can't see in the dark. so when your mom used to joke around with you that if you eat your carrots (which, once converted by your body, will provide something like 90% of your daily value of vitamin a) you could see in the dark, she was totally right!
image courtesy of world community cookbook

  • it's important in reproduction--gene reproduction, that is! your cells need vitamin a in order to transcribe your genes. while i don't pretend to understand the intricacies of that process, i'm happy to know that the regeneration of the genes within my cells are being helped out by my tendency to eat romaine lettuce (58% of your daily need in a medium-sized salad).
image courtesy of e. coli information--be sure to wash your lettuce! :)
  • the flu and the common cold are putty in its hands! according to some sources, vitamin a helps build your immune system by making white blood cells work more efficiently and to fight viruses more effectively. i don't know about you, but i'm grateful for that knowledge when my poor husband comes home feeling a little under the weather.  beefing up your vitamin a stores by throwing some spinach into your diet can only help in cold and flu season (green monster anyone? 1 cup of boiled spinach gives you 377% of your daily value!).
image courtesy of iowagirleats.blogspot.com--with a great recipe!

what i realized, however, is that some of the substitution choices that i have made to eliminate, for example, white and high glycemic foods from my diet have inadvertently made me a vitamin a junkie.  one of my favorite foods right now is the sweet potato. i began roasting sweet potatoes because i had sweet potato fries once upon a time and thought they were the most incredible thing i'd ever had. 

(i still think that. if you give me the option, the white potato goes down in a blaze of ignominious infamy every time.
courtesy of melinda hinson neely

 come on. look at them. can you blame me?)

roasting sweet potatoes, by cubing them and drizzling them with olive oil and spices to taste, adds 262% of my daily value. my tendency to add a salad to a meal, as you saw earlier, has definite benefits. even my tendency to cook with basil and oregano (each of which adds 5% of the daily value) works to help my vitamin stores increase.

how can you know if you're getting enough vitamin a in your diet? beyond recording your food (which i highly recommend, for many reasons), you can look to your body for the telltale signs. if you are someone with hyperkeratosis, or a goosebump-like appearance to your skin, you may need to amp up your intake of vitamin a.  if you find yourself prone to many viral infections or illnesses, you almost might benefit from the addition of more vitamin a in your diet. 

just remember that dietary sources of vitamins are infinitely better than supplements.  your body knows what to do with the food you give it--it will take what it needs and provide you, in turn, with a hard-working, well-tuned body that will take you where you need to go and give you the energy you need.


some teachergirl updates:

Baby Girl: verdict of today's appointment--we're super healthy. iron levels are "very good" for this stage of pregnancy, my sugar was "perfect" when i took my glucose screening, my blood pressure continues to be insanely good, and i've only gained 0.5 pounds since my increased efforts at watching the composition of my food intake. (that's a total of 20.5 in 30 weeks--i'm over the moon about this, actually.) these are all testaments to how effective small choices can be. i swear i eat more than you can imagine--but it's all about what you eat and how you eat it and how you record it.  knowledge is power!

Green Monster: i did it. i tried it. it was GOOD.  i must say, though, in fair warning: if you add blackberries to your green monster, it becomes an unfortunate brown color.  however, it tastes delicious and it filled me (and my fairly impressive pregnant appetite) up for several hours. and i got lots and lots of dark green boxes! i think the total calorie count of mine, which was at least 20 ounces, was 230. not bad. not bad at all, especially since it contained both milk and yogurt, good sources of protein and calcium.  if you haven't tried it, you really need to.  i promise, you won't regret it!

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