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Eye on Nutrition: Vitamin A

WIC food packages and nutrition education are the chief means by which WIC affects the dietary quality and habits of participants. Did you know that these two benefits are among the top reasons for continued participation in WIC (in addition to the work of WIC personnel!), and that consistent 4-year participation in WIC was associated with better diet quality?

Eye on Nutrition (EON) brings focus to the foods and nutrients in the WIC food packages to shine a light on their importance to WIC participants. This EON features vitamin A – a nutrient that plays a vital role in vision and reproduction. While getting adequate amounts are important for the WIC population, getting too much can be harmful.

Be sure to check out vitamin A-rich recipes members of the WIC community have shared with us.

What is Vitamin A?
Why is Vitamin A Important?
Can Too Much Vitamin A be Harmful?
What WIC-Eligible Foods Provide Vitamin A?
Is Vitamin A on the Nutrition Facts Label?
Education Resources

What is Vitamin A?

Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that is present naturally in many foods and added to others. There are two forms of vitamin A found in the diet.  

Preformed vitamin A: found in animal sources like beef liver, fish, eggs, and dairy. A common name for preformed vitamin A is called retinol.

Provitamin A: found in plant sources like dark green leafy vegetables and orange, yellow, and red fruits and vegetables. Provitamin A is a type of carotenoid, the most common related to vitamin A is called beta-carotene and is an antioxidant. The body converts these plant pigments into vitamin A.

The recommended intake of vitamin A depends on age, gender and life stage; the need is highest during lactation.


Why is Vitamin A Important?

Vitamin A plays a key role in reproduction, normal vision, immune system function, and cellular growth and maintenance of the heart, lungs and kidneys.

During pregnancy and lactation, vitamin A needs are increased, but most people in the United States get enough of this nutrient from the foods they eat.

While rare, vitamin A deficiency is more likely in certain groups of people, including premature infants, who often have low levels of vitamin A in their first year, and those with cystic fibrosis.


Can Too Much Vitamin A be Harmful?

Getting too much preformed vitamin A (usually from supplements or certain medicines) can cause dizziness, nausea, headaches, coma, and even death. High intakes of preformed vitamin A in pregnant women can also lead to congenital birth defects in the baby. Women who might be pregnant should not take high doses of vitamin A supplements. Rather, vitamin A should come from foods in the diet.

Consuming high amounts of beta-carotene or other forms of provitamin A can turn the skin yellow-orange, but this condition is harmless. High intakes of beta-carotene do not cause birth defects, or the other more serious effects caused by getting too much preformed vitamin A.

Encourage participants to talk to their health care provider if they are concerned about vitamin A.


What WIC-Eligible Foods Provide Vitamin A?

A number of WIC-eligible foods contain vitamin A, though not all foods may be available in every State, US Territory, or Indian Tribal Organization due to the flexibility they have in selecting foods for their WIC food packages. Among the WIC-eligible foods that provide vitamin A are:

  • Orange, yellow and red fruits and vegetables
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Milk and milk products, as well as some milk substitution options:
      • Soy beverage
      • Yogurt
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Eggs
  • Canned fish

Food sources beyond those in the WIC food packages that have vitamin A include beef liver and other organ meats, other fish, and poultry.

"Fortified" with vitamin A means the nutrient is added because it is not naturally found in the food item.


Is Vitamin A on the Nutrition Facts Label?

It’s voluntary for manufacturers to list vitamin A on the Nutrition Facts label. If it's on the label, it’ll be listed using micrograms (mcg) of retinol activity equivalents (RAE) and % Daily Value (%DV). 

RAE is used because it will account for the bioactivity of all types of vitamin A, both retinol and provitamin A carotenoids (like beta-carotene, which is converted to retinol in the body).

The %DV (how much a nutrient in a single serving of an individual packaged food) can be helpful to make comparisons between products (as long as serving sizes are the same) and informed choices.

Read more about the Daily Value:

Daily Value and % Daily Value

The Lows and Highs of Percent Daily Value on the new Nutrition Facts Label



Education Resources

The Nutrition Facts label fact sheets for vitamins and minerals provide action steps to eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals in general, plus has a chart that identifies food sources and functions of each, including vitamin A.

MyPlate offers dairy, fruits, vegetables and protein foods nutrition education resources, including galleries for each of these food groups, as well as interactive resources for participants to:

  • Get a personalized MyPlate Plan (Plan MiPlato) that takes pregnancy and breastfeeding status into account.
  • Take the MyPlate Quiz to see how their eating habits stack up against recommendations and get tailored resources and a personal quiz results code to sync with the Start Simple with MyPlate app.
  • Set simple goals based on their personal needs with the Start Simple with MyPlate app. Sync results from the MyPlate Quiz for a personalized experience.  Join challenges, see progress, and earn badges to celebrate successes.
  • Shop (and save money!) with the Shop Simple with MyPlate web app to quickly find savings in the local area and discover new ways to prepare low-cost foods. Just enter the zip code to find cost-saving opportunities in the local area, including physical and online SNAP retailers and Farmer’s Markets. This app can be access via a smartphone and desktop/laptop.
  • Test their Food Group IQ with fun quizzes.
  • Hear healthy eating solutions from families via videos, and download Food Planning During the Coronavirus Pandemic (in English and Spanish).
  • Find activity sheets for kids, including bingo, coloring sheets and a food critic activity to help kids try new fruits, vegetables, or a new recipe.
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