Welcome to Diabetes Prevention Thursdays! If you’re diabetic, it’s important to get plenty of Vitamin A for a healthy immune system. While many people associate vitamin C with being the most important immune system vitamin, you shouldn’t forget about the other vitamins which can also play major roles in keeping you healthy.
What is vitamin A and what does it do?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in many foods. Vitamin A is important for normal vision, the immune system, and reproduction. Vitamin A also helps the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs work properly.
There are two different types of vitamin A. The first type, preformed vitamin A, is found in meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. The second type, provitamin A, is found in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. The most common type of provitamin A in foods and dietary supplements is beta-carotene.
How much vitamin A do I need?
The amount of vitamin A you need depends on your age and sex. Average daily recommended amounts are listed below in micrograms (mcg) of retinol activity equivalents (RAE).
|Life Stage||Recommended Amount|
|Birth to 6 months||400 mcg RAE|
|Infants 7–12 months||500 mcg RAE|
|Children 1–3 years||300 mcg RAE|
|Children 4–8 years||400 mcg RAE|
|Children 9–13 years||600 mcg RAE|
|Teen boys 14–18 years||900 mcg RAE|
|Teen girls 14–18 years||700 mcg RAE|
|Adult men||900 mcg RAE|
|Adult women||700 mcg RAE|
|Pregnant teens||750 mcg RAE|
|Pregnant women||770 mcg RAE|
|Breastfeeding teens||1,200 mcg RAE|
|Breastfeeding women||1,300 mcg RAE|
Vitamin A is often overlooked when compared to vitamin C and D, but it has a lot of health benefits that you could be missing out on. One thing that vitamin A does for your immune system is that it helps you maintain healthy mucus.
While it does seem gross, and though you might not have known it, the mucus in your nose and throat is actually your body’s first line of defense against viruses. It’s meant to catch anything that’s not supposed to be there, which is why your body produces more of it when you get sick.
Another immune system boost that it gives you, which is also helpful for diabetics in particular, is its anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin A can help quickly reduce and control inflammation, which helps your immune system.
Many diabetics experience inflammation, which is uncomfortable, so this will also help you feel a lot better in your day to day life. Vitamin A is often found with beta-carotene, something that helps improve eye health, which is definitely important for diabetics.
Diabetes can greatly increase your chances of eye problems such as cataracts and poor eyesight, so taking care of your eyes is important. The best source of vitamin A and beta-carotene you’re going to find is carrots.
What foods provide vitamin A?
Vitamin A is found naturally in many foods and is added to some foods, such as milk and cereal. You can get recommended amounts of vitamin A by eating a variety of foods, including the following:
- Beef liver and other organ meats (but these foods are also high in cholesterol, so limit the amount you eat).
- Some types of fish, such as salmon.
- Green leafy vegetables and other green, orange, and yellow vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, and squash.
- Fruits, including cantaloupe, apricots, and mangos.
- Dairy products, which are among the major sources of vitamin A for Americans.
- Fortified breakfast cereals.
Carrots are a very diabetic-friendly vegetable since they’re so low in sugar, and can be prepared in a ton of different ways. You can have carrots as a snack throughout the day, though you might want to stay away from sauces that might contain more sugar.
Just eating them raw will help you keep your blood sugar under control. They’re also great roasted in the oven or cooked into a sauce, and you can also add them to soups for extra flavor.
Carrots pair well with almost any meat, and are also great in salads. You can also find a decent amount of vitamin A in foods like spinach and broccoli, though not in the same amounts.
Still, if you don’t like carrots, broccoli and spinach are great veggies to add to your meals and can be eaten in whatever way you find most appealing.
Can vitamin A be harmful?
Yes, high intakes of some forms of vitamin A can 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 cause birth defects in their babies. Women who might be pregnant should not take high doses of vitamin A supplements.
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.
The daily upper limits for preformed vitamin A are listed below. These levels do not apply to people who are taking vitamin A for medical reasons under the care of a doctor. Upper limits for beta-carotene and other forms of provitamin A have not been established.
|Birth to 12 months||600 mcg|
|Children 1–3 years||600 mcg|
|Children 4–8 years||900 mcg|
|Children 9–13 years||1,700 mcg|
|Teens 14–18 years||2,800 mcg|
|Adults 19 years and older||3,000 mcg|
Vitamin A and healthful eating
People should get most of their nutrients from food, advises the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Foods contain vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and other substances that benefit health. In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may provide nutrients that otherwise may be consumed in less-than-recommended amounts. For more information about building a healthy diet, refer to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate.
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I wanted to talk about this topic because it is absolutely possible to prevent and even reverse Type 2 Diabetes (but you cannot reverse Type 1). Yes, it’s possible! and emerging studies looking at lifestyle medicine and prevention support this! But I always tell my patients that you must be dedicated and diligent in adopting a healthy lifestyle to get the best results. You can create certain behaviors and practices that will not only enrich your life, but that you can pass on to your family, friends, and community, to help break the cycle of this chronic disease so that you can leave a legacy of health to your loved ones.
I use lifestyle medicine as the first line of treatment, before medications, to treat lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Lifestyle-related chronic diseases include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and some cancers, just to name a few. Lifestyle practices, such as eating a whole-food plant-based diet and regular physical activity, can help you improve your blood sugar levels, maybe reverse type 2 diabetes. In certain cases, these approaches may even outperform pharmaceutical therapy. But I always tell my patients that conventional medications may be appropriate at this time to prevent catastrophic illness, but over time, you can work to make the necessary lifestyle changes to possibly reduce and/or eliminate medications. Please remember to always consult your physician for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any decisions whatsoever.
Tools For Diabetes Prevention and Monitoring
Blood Sugar Monitoring
As you know, I always stress the importance of taking control of your health. Monitoring your blood sugar levels is one of the best ways to do this. To do this, a single drop of blood is collected with disposable lancets and placed on a disposable test strip, which you insert into a home blood-sugar monitoring device, called a glucometer.
The common times for checking your blood sugar are when you first wake up (fasting), before a meal, 2 hours after a meal, and at bedtime; however, you should check your blood sugar as many times a day as your health care team suggests.
Monitoring your blood sugar level provides you and your doctors with important knowledge about how food, activity, medication, stress, and other elements might affect your blood sugar levels. This data will assist you and your doctor in developing a therapy plan that is suited to your demands.
Since weight management is very important in combatting chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend that you be mindful of your weight and its fluctuations, and that you monitor your weight AT LEAST on a weekly basis. I recommend a scale that includes a body composition monitor (*this scale cannot be used with a pacemaker or other implanted devices).
Physical activity (or exercise) can improve your health and reduce the risk of developing several chronic diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, just to name a few. Physical activity actually improves insulin sensitivity. Physical activity can improve your mood, boost your immune system, and even help you maintain a healthy weight.
I often recommend yoga and resistance training for physical activity, but as you are aware, there are plenty of forms of “movement” that you can do! But for the basics, especially if you’re just getting started, yoga and resistance training are where I would start.
Yoga can be a great way to improve your strength and flexibility, manage your stress, improve your heart health, and lose weight! I recommend using a grounded yoga mat to connect yourself with the earth and reduce inflammation.
Resistance training is the mainstay for overall health. It not only has beneficial effects on reducing body fat, it also increases muscle size and strength. Here are some basic dumbbells/free weights that I recommend to everyone.
Remember, living a healthy lifestyle including eating a whole foods plant-based diet and regular physical activity are the best ways to prevent diabetes. Please talk with your doctor about any complementary health approaches, including supplements, you use. Let me know what you think in the comment section below.
PS. I am always asked what tools and resources I recommend to help you reach YOUR health goals. Here is the ever-growing, always updated list for you.
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