Designing Sustenance: Why I use what I use. (Part 1: Vitamin A)

Designing Sustenance     

In these modern times full of supplements, the term “Multi-Vitamin” usually conjures up a mental image of a pill or powdered drink. If you don’t take some of them with food they will make you nauseated, or they turn your urine a funny color for half of the day. In most cases, it’s a mega concentrated dose of laboratory created synthetic analogues of the vitamins found in food, and it does a great job at improving the vitamin content of your toilet water. Don’t get me wrong, not all multi’s are worthless, but you have to be willing to spend the money and do some research to find a good one that uses activated nutrients and that is made by a company who actually cares about health.

I keep quality supplements of individual micronutrients on hand to cover those days where I dont get what I need from food, but I never rely on them. The only supplement I take everyday is Alpha Lipoic Acid, the mega powerful pillar of the antioxidant network (a topic for another time).

I’d like to challenge everyone to rethink the term Multi-Vitamin as a wonderful array of vegetables, and some fruits, rather than a pill.

I present HealthSavor’s Most Wanted Ingredients. This week begins a series of posts dedicated to explaining why I use what I use. By the end of the series, you can get an idea how we turn our meals into the most effective multi-vitamins out there!  Our customers see a lot of kale, bell peppers, and other items in many dishes, and some have asked why. Nothing on my menu is there by coincidence. I hope this series will help you make decisions on what to shop and cook for yourself, or even what to choose on a restaurant menu while out. It will also give you a glimpse of the thought and research that goes into creating your meals. So, here we go… welcome to my brain…

When I look at the nutritional analysis of one of my recipes, I look for at LEAST 30% of  vitamins A-K, a balanced ratio (1:2) of omega 3 vs. 6, no trans/short chain saturated fats, low sodium, low/no sugar, and ample minerals.  That’s it. That’s the key to maintaining great health for a lifetime, along with exercise and stress management, of course.  

If any nutrient is missing, I add the vegetable with the nutrients I’m looking for that would work well in the recipe. Once you do this enough, it becomes second nature to look at a food and pick out anything that is missing or is in excess. After doing 200 unique recipes in our first year, we have developed a preferred list of foods that taste the best and pack the most punch with the least sodium and sugar, and trans/bad saturated fats (yes, there are good ones). It goes a little something like this…  

Vitamin A:  (Fat Soluble) 

Leafy greens and darker colored vegetables, particularly of the color orange are great sources of vitamin A, but when it comes to cooking, Butternut Squash and Kale are the clear frontrunners.

Kale: 1 oz of Kale gives you 86% vitamin A with 50% vitamin C, too. It’s got 50mg Omega 3 to 36mg Omega 6, and it stands up well to cooking. Just be sure that you never boil and drain it as most of your nutrients will go right down the sink.

Chard: I use a lot of chard, too. You can saute it, add it to quiche or casseroles, and it’s a great and sturdy substitute for tortillas when making wraps. It’s not very bitter, has a silky texture reminiscent of spinach but a bit more firm, and just ONE LEAF boasts 60% vitamin A and a whopping 490% vitamin K (more on that later). The omega profile is little, but chard is still a powerhouse with all good and no bad things.

Beet Greens: (and other dark, leafy greens) I end up using these primarily because we use beets for our juices often, and it would be crazy to waste the greens, as they are extremely tender when cooked, and still give us 40% vitamin A per leaf.

Green isn’t the only color to seek out when looking for vitamin A sources, as orange is the telltale sign of the presence of beta-carotene and/or anti-inflammatory beta cryptoxanthin. Here’s how I make sure my customers get enough of these substances:

Butternut Squash: Bam! I can’t say enough about this vegetable. It has the most comprehensive vitamin A profile of any food I am aware of. By vitamin A profile, I am talking about the different forms that exist. Let’s indulge in this for just one moment..

Vitamin A from 1 cup cooked Butternut Squash breaks down like this:

  • 22869IU 457% Daily Value
  • Retinol Activity Equivalent 1144mcg
  • Alpha Carotene 2316 mcg
  • Beta Carotene 9369mcg
  • Beta Cryptoxanthin 6388mcg

Other sources of preformed vitamin A are liver and fish oils, milk and eggs, which also include some provitamin A . Most dietary provitamin A comes from leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomato products, fruits, and some vegetable oils .

  What are these substances and what do they do?

Retinol – Modulates gene transcription and completes the cycle of chemical reactions known as vision. A tell-tale sign of deficiency is in a condition casually termed “Night Blindness” caused by a lack of a substance known as visual purple, which requires dietary intake of retinol.

Carotenoids: (Alpha Carotene, Beta Carotene, Lycopene) Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin are provitamin A carotenoids, meaning they can be converted by the body to retinol. Carotenoids are best absorbed with fat in a meal. Chopping, puréeing, and cooking carotenoid-containing vegetables in oil generally increases the bioavailability of the carotenoids they contain. Recommendations by the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and American Heart Association to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables daily are aimed, in part, at increasing intakes of carotenoids.

Xanthophylls: (Beta Cryptoxanthin, Lutein, Zeaxanthin) A subset of carotenoids, Beta-Cryptoxanthin has been shown in studies to be so effective at reducing inflammatory arthritis that as little as one glass of orange juice a day was sufficient to prevent onset and reduce symptoms. (Although I’d like to take it a step healthier and recommend butternut squash for this, as it has more fiber and less sugar than OJ). Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids found in the retina and lens of the eye. The results of epidemiological studies suggest that diets rich in lutein and zeaxanthin may help slow the development of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts

What happens when you don’t get enough of them?

Vitamin A deficiency is most common in the United States among low-income groups. Children are especially vulnerable because they are still growing rapidly. People who eat very-low-fat diets and who limit their consumption of dark green and deep orange vegetables, and those who experience fat malabsorption from conditions like celiac disease or infectious hepatitis can also become deficient in vitamin A. A zinc deficiency can also trigger a vitamin A deficiency by making it difficult to use the body’s own stores of the vitamin.

An early warning sign of vitamin A deficiency is the inability to see well in the dark, a condition called night blindness. If the deficiency is not corrected, the outer layers of the eyes become dry, thickened, and cloudy, eventually leading to blindness if left untreated.

Vitamin A deficiency also causes dry and rough skin, making it take on a kind of “goose flesh” appearance. In addition, one can become more susceptible to infectious diseases. That’s because a lack of vitamin A damages the lining of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, so they can’t act as effective barriers against bacteria. Infections of the vagina and the urinary tract are also more likely.

Dietary Requirements

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin A is 900 retinol equivalents (RE) for men and 700 RE for women. Retinol equivalents are the preferred measure for vitamin A, because this method takes into account both forms of the vitamin — retinol and carotenoids. One RE is equal to 3.33 international units (IU) of retinol or 10 IU of beta-carotene or 12 IU of mixed carotenes. Assuming you get the vitamin from both sources, the RDAs are equivalent to about 5,000 IU for men and 4,000 IU for women.

It’s not necessary to obtain the RDA amount for vitamin A each day. Because vitamin A is not soluble in water, you do not excrete excess amounts of the vitamin. The liver stores vitamin A, and the body can tap into the reserves whenever dietary intake is too low.

If you choose to take vitamin A supplements to get your daily requirements, make sure you don’t overdo it — too much vitamin A can be toxic. That’s another great reason to obtain your vitamins from food. You can’t over do it!

Try it yourself! 

The next time you are thinking about dinner, try to add kale, chard, other dark greens, butternut squash, or sweet potatoes to the equation. No matter how you chop it, you will benefit.

Next week we will cover the numerous B Vitamins and unveil our secret (not really) culinary weapon against B-deficiency.


About Chef Brandon

bkaleChef Brandon Schlunt is co-owner of HealthSavor, a Cincinnati Ohio based healthy, organic, gluten-free meal delivery service, created to help busy families, individuals and children eat nutritious meals easily and affordably. Chef Brandon focuses on helping his customers lose weight, lower their blood sugar and feels very honored to have earned the trust of many doctors, students, parents, athletes, and on-the-go businessmen and women all over the city. In his non-existent spare time, Chef B enjoys playing music, hanging out with his daughter and fiance, and continuing his education in nutrition.

Join The HealthSavor Newsletter Here ORDER TODAY!