Vitamin A for kids. What does vitamin A do, where does it come from, and how much vitamin A do kids need? Here’s what to know about the best sources of vitamin A for plant-based kids.
While good nutrition is a combined effort of many important nutrients, it can be helpful to understand where, why, and how to get certain ones – like vitamin A – on a plant-based diet.
What is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient important for growth, development, and immune functioning.
Your body also needs vitamin A to support normal vision, reproduction, and communication between your cells to maintain properly functioning organs.
Vitamin A actually refers to a group of compounds called retinoids, which includes retinol, retinal, and retinyl esters.
It’s found in two forms: preformed vitamin A retinol and provitamin A carotenes.
Retinol is found in animal-derived foods, such as dairy products, fish, and meats. Carotenes are pigments found in plant foods, which your body converts into vitamin A.
Vitamin A is also a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that it needs dietary fat to be absorbed well and stored in the body (primarily in the liver).
How Much Vitamin A Do Kids Need?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin A are listed as retinol activity equivalents (RAE).
The purpose of this is to account for the different bioactivities of retinol and provitamin A carotenoids. Both are converted into retinol by your body.
For frame of reference, 1 mcg RAE = 1 mcg retinol, 2 mcg supplemental beta-carotene, 12 mcg dietary beta-carotene, and 24 mcg dietary alpha-carotene or beta-cryptoxanthin.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the RDA for vitamin A among children are as follows:
- 0-6 months: 400 mcg RAE
- 7-12 months: 500 mcg RAE
- 1-3 years: 300 mcg RAE
- 4-8 years: 400 mcg RAE
- 9-13 years: 600 mcg RAE
- 14-18 years: 900 mcg RAE (boys), 700 mcg RAE (girls)
Vitamin A deficiency is rare in developed countries like the United States.
However, children with conditions that may cause fat malabsorption, like cystic fibrosis, increase the risk for vitamin A deficiency. In these cases, it’s best to work with your child’s pediatrician and dietitian to ensure adequate vitamin A intake and status.
Because vitamin A is fat-soluble and therefore accumulates in the body, there is a risk for excessive intake. However, this is primarily a concern with preformed vitamin A, from animal products.
High intakes of beta-carotene and other provitamin A carotenoids from plant sources are not associated with major negative effects.
A harmless condition called carotenemia can occur from over-consumption of carotene-rich foods like carrots and sweet potatoes, characterized by a yellow-orange hue to the skin.
Best Vitamin A Sources
Good sources of vitamin A-rich carotenes include darkly-colored leafy greens and brightly-colored red and orange fruits and vegetables.
It’s important that plant-based babes eat at least one of these foods daily to meet their needs.
Some of the best plant sources of vitamin A include sweet potatoes, boiled spinach, canned pumpkin, carrots, cantaloupe, bell peppers, kale, and mangoes.
A few of our favorite ways to incorporate vitamin A-rich foods into our babes’ diets include:
- Sweet Potato: roasted, served as “fries”, mixed into macaroni
- Butternut Squash: roasted, pureed into oatmeal, served in tacos
- Kale + Spinach: added to smoothies, sauces, and dips
- Mango: sliced into strips, added to smoothies or popsicles
- Carrots: steamed, shredded, or pureed in soup
- Cantaloupe: cubed or pureed into yogurt
Vitamin A-Rich Recipes
Need some ideas? Here are some of our favorite family-friendly recipes using vitamin-A rich ingredients.
- Carrot Cake Muffins
- Creamy Carrot Cauliflower Soup
- Vegan Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese
- Healthy Sweet Potato Waffles
- Anti-Inflammatory Green Smoothies
- Mango Coconut Cream Popsicles
- Roasted Butternut Squash and Chipotle Tofu Tacos
Vitamin A for kids is an important nutrient and fairly easy to get on a plant-based diet. Chances are that your kids already enjoy some of the best sources of vitamin A, but if not, we encourage you to try some of the ideas above!
Chime In: What are some of your family’s favorite sources of vitamin A?
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