Vitamin A: Too much of a good thing?

You know how sometimes you just don’t believe what you read? That’s what happened to me when I looked at the nutrition facts for a recipe of Mediterranean Pasta Primavera…a dish that the recipe developer described as “a kind of Italian stir-fry.” Vitamin A: 140%! Lisa Golden Schroeder designed the recipe below to be simple, nutritious, and delicious. It is part of her recipe collection, called The Children’s Hour.

Recipe for Mediterranean Pasta Primavera

140% of Vitamin A seems like a lot from just noodles, chicken, and some veggies. So I went back to my data base to check the numbers. Where did all that A come from? Could it really be from that one sweet potato and the little bit of spinach? Yes, it did come from those, plus the tomatoes and mozzarella. But most of the vitamin A in the recipe came from the sweet potato.

And why did such a high level of vitamin A in a single dish (one with no squash, broccoli, butter, milk, eggs) surprise me so? I have looked at nutrient data for many, many years. I just didn’t believe that one fourth of a sweet potato really provided more than a day’s worth of vitamin A. All the A needed for healthy glowing skin, sturdy bones, and the linings of the mouth, nose and eyes that protect me from infections plus all the Vitamin A needed to support vision in dim light which depends on vitamin A. The consumer would get all those benefits from eating one serving of Mediterranean Pasta Primavera that includes sweet potato! The rest of the numbers looked good too, which matters because no one nutrient does it all. Many nutrients act together (synergy in nutrition!) to keep us on our toes, going on about our daily activities.

Can you get too much of this good thing called Vitamin A? Yes. Taking multivitamins plus eating a lot of fortified foods can put you into the toxic range of Vitamin A intake (nausea, irritability, blurred vision, weakness, headache, liver damage, hair loss, dry skin). Older adults need less A and are particularly vulnerable to overdose levels when they take Vitamin A-containing supplements and consume fortified foods and beverages.

On the other hand, you can’t eat enough vegetables to reach toxic levels of A intake. The plant version is actually called beta-carotene; Vitamin A is found only in animal products. Daily Values report both animal and vegetable sources as Vitamin A. Our bodies can use both forms.