Happy year 2014 once again to you all. I believe or hope that everyone has had a good start into the year. January, they say, is usually slow. People trying to get back into their routines after the festive season. I have also been busy trying to plan activities for the first quarter of the year. To start off the year, I would be going back to basics. Last year I wrote quite a number of articles on health benefits of certain foods. We most times hear that a food is rich in vitamin A, B, C or K, etc. but many of us may have forgotten what these vitamins are, or do for the body. To help you, I would be dedicating my next few articles to highlight some of these vitamins, their health benefits and foods that are rich in them. Our first stop is the popular vitamin A which many of us with the blink of an eye would say that it is good for the eyes. 

What is Vitamin A? 

Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, also known as retinol. Vitamin A is present in many foods and is important for normal vision, the immune system and reproduction. Vitamin A can be obtained from two major food types: 1) retinol -- a yellow, fat-soluble substance. It is the form of vitamin A absorbed when eating animal food sources. Sources include cod liver oil, butter, margarine, liver, eggs, cheese and milk. 2) Carotenes -- Beta-carotene is among the second type of vitamin A, which comes from plants. Carotene is an orange photosynthetic pigment crucial for plant photosynthesis. The orange colors of carrots, for example, come from its carotene content.

Effects of Lack of Vitamin A?
According to the World Health Organization, Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. In pregnant women VAD causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality. Statistics show that Vitamin A deficiency is more common in developing countries. Research also shows that children are more vulnerable because they are still growing rapidly. People who eat very-low-fat diets and who limit their consumption of liver, dairy foods and dark green vegetables are also likely to be deficient in Vitamin A.

Signs of Vitamin A Deficiency
An early warning sign of vitamin A deficiency is the inability to see well in the dark, i.e. 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. 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.

Sources of Vitamin A
Sources of Vitamin A include: Beef liver and other organ meats (note that these foods are also high in cholesterol, so watch the quantity you eat); some types of fish, such as salmon, cod liver oil; green leafy vegetables and other green, orange, and yellow vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, peas, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes and squash; fruits, including cantaloupe, apricots, pawpaw, peaches and mangoes; dairy products, such as milk, butter, and cheddar cheese, eggs and Fortified breakfast cereals.

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