The Real Deal on Vitamin A

2019 POST UPDATE** During my research for Baby Making and Beyond, there are some key changes to the vitamin A info I share below. One day soon, I’ll update this post but if you are TTC or are pregnant, check out Baby Making And Beyond’s core 4 nutrition guidelines for more details and recommendations!

Vitamin A is awesome (get it "A"wesome?) that vitamin A is the first one because in my mind, it is one of the most important micronutrients not only to help you boost your fertility and prepare for pregnancy, but also during pregnancy and breastfeeding. So, let's explore the wonders of this over achieving vitamin. 

The Scoop on Vitamin A 

Vitamin A is important for many key functions in the body. These include: 

  • Eyesight

  • Hormone Balance and Fertility

  • Thyroid function

  • Bone growth and skin health

  • Cell differentiation and multiplication

  • Immune Function (viruses and bacteria seem to retreat in the presence of high vit A)

  • For your growing baby specifically: Vitamin A is important for the development of the neural pathways between the brain and sensory organs and in the development of the nephrons in the kidney.

  • Vitamin A deficiency is also associated with pregnancy loss...needless to say, it's an important part of a healthy diet.

Two Types of Vitamin A

Liver is one of the very best sources of vitamin A

Liver is one of the very best sources of vitamin A

Retinoids (Reteinol Esters): Derived from animal sources. Retinoids are found in the liver of any animal and in smaller quantities in egg yolks,  butter and cream from grass fed cows. 

Carotenoids:  AKA Beta-carotene. Vitamin A derived from plant sources. Think carrots, winter squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe. Basically, if it has an orange hue, it's probably rich in carotenoids. Carotenoids must be converted by the body into retinol in order to be used by the body. This is kind of tricky for the body to do and is a pretty inefficient process. This process can be even trickier if you suffer from a hormone imbalance, thyroid condition, it can be effected by food preparation and cooking methods and also if don't have enough fat in your diet or if you have digestive problems. Babies also don't convert well (another reason to feed your infants over 6months liver).  

Vit A in a Nutshell

  • Fat soluble Vitamin. This means it must be consumed with a fat to be properly absorbed.

  • Both Retinol Esters from animals and Beta Carotene from plants must be converted by the body into Retinoids. Once converted they are stored in the liver as Retinol Esters. This is why liver is such a rad source of Vit A and also why high doses of vitamin A retinol, when taken in a concentrated form, can cause birth defects months after discontinuing them. High potency topical skin serums are known for this.

  • Traditional cultures around the world seem to instinctively know the the benefits of proper vitamin A consumption. In fact, liver is found in the diets of almost every tribal group around the world, from the Canadian Inuit to the Maori in New Zealand. Many cultures even make special efforts to ensure pregnant women consume liver regularly. They instinctively know that vitamin A is critical for the health and wellbeing of our growing babies and is an KEY part of there development. Weston A Price has a great article that goes into the details about why Vitamin A is so critical for fetal development. Take home message....CONSUME LIVER in reasonable amounts! 

Vitamin A Toxicity in Pregnancy

The fear about Vitamin A toxicity in pregnancy over the past 20 years is something that commonly worries women whenever I suggest regular  dietary liver consumption. Here's the deal.....In 1995, a small study based in Boston found that high does of vitamin A could cause neural tube defects. The issue with this study is that it only looked at higher does (25,000 IU+) Vitamin A consumption from SYNTHETIC sources (retinol & retinol esters).  Follow up studies from several sites in Europe concluded that doses up to 30-50,000 IU in pregnancy from REAL FOOD sources were very safe, in fact, potentially beneficial to pregnant women. Sadly however the FDA did not change it's message and the public was once again misinformed.

Retinol Sources and Levels

  • High-vitamin cod liver oil 230,000IU /100g

  • Regular cod liver oil 100,000IU /100g

  • Duck liver 40,000IU/100g

  • Beef liver 35,000IU/100g

  • Goose liver 31,000IU/100g

  • Liverwurst sausage (pork) 28,000IU/100g

  • Lamb liver 25,000IU/100g

  • Egg Yolk 1,442IU/100g

  • Pasture Raised Butter 2,500IU /100g (this level varies greatly depending on diet of cows)

The US  and Canada currently recommend 5,000 IU per day . From the work of Weston Price, we could guess that the amount of Vitamin A in primitive diets could have as high as 50,000 IU per day. Current  recommendations from a variety of sources hover around the  10,000 IU-15,000IU level when obtained from a modern diet rich in daily grass fed butter, eggs from pastured animals and beef, lamb or poultry liver several times once a week. If you're not eating liver adding a 1 tablespoon of fermented cod liver oil can help. You can also take liver capsules, which are also a great source of b-vitamins. Vital proteins makes a good product. What's a Pregnant Paleo Mama to do?

Lambs liver...one of the milder livers. It makes great meatballs and pate spreads.

  1. Always enjoy your vitamin A sources with a fat. Vitamin A is fat soluble and needs fat to be properly absorbed.

  2. Enjoy liberal amounts of butter from grass fed cows and egg yolks. 

  3. Enjoy liver from grass fed animals once or twice a week to ensure you have a good supply of retinoids. Unless you are consuming Polar Bear or walrus liver, a serving or two of liver per week is not likely to cause any trouble. If you find the flavour of liver to be strong, try chicken liver, duck liver or lambs liver. They are milder. I have a great lambs liver meatball recipe ! It's easy to hide a few ounces of liver in meatballs, burgers or meatloaf. If you're feeling adventurous you could also try one of  Liz's Liver Smoothie Shots I'm going to give this a go this week....keep your eyes out for me on Instagram giving this a shot...literally. Ha ha. 

  4. Consume beta-carotene rich foods to your hearts content. Yumm squash (I am a squash addict) 

    • Always consume vitamin A rich food with a FAT. This helps you absorb to absorb the nutrient. This gives you full permission to slather your yam or kabocha squash liberally with grass fed butter or coconut oil. 

  5. Make sure you are getting enough Vitamin E in your diet

    • Vitamin E is necessary for the absorption of Vitamin A. Vitamin E can be found in: spinach, turnip, chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, bell peppers, asparagus, collard greens, broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts.

  6. Pregnant or planning for pregnancy? I'd give your high dose Retinol skin creams a miss to reduce the chance of toxicity. Try a vitamin C skin serum instead to achieve a beautiful glow!  

 

Lamb Liver Lovin'

Like many of you, I try to incorporate a healthy dose of liver into my diet. Liver has enormous nutritional benefits and is one of the most concentrated sources of vitamins, minerals and amino acids you can find in the grocery store. Sadly, eating organ meats has fallen out of favour in our modern society. This seems to have occurred as we become more and more disconnected from our food sources and continue to move further away from the farm. In our ancestral past, nutrient dense organ meats were reserved for chiefs, royalty and the most revered members of society (in many cultures, this included PREGNANT WOMEN). 

Why I love liver: 

  • It's cheap: 1lbs of organic/grassfed liver costs me no more than around $3.00. I buy mine from Rowe Farms in Toronto. 
  • Nutrient dense
  • Can taste great if prepared the right way.
  • I feel NOURISHED after eating it. My body feels happy whenever I eat liver and craves more. 

 I recommend liver to all my clients or for anyone trying to optimize their fertility, health and wellbeing. Try to incorporate it into your diet at least once a week if you can. Here's a recipe inspired by the Purely Twins, Lori and Michelle, that's been helping me get my weekly dose. Lamb liver in particular is mild in flavour and is a great 'starter' liver for folks new to organ meats. 

These taste great with zucchini noodles or my personal favourite, on a pillow of cauliflower/broccoli mash (made with coconut butter. Absolutely to die for). Feel free to experiment with different spice combinations, the possibilities are endless. They also freeze well, so you will always have a quick go-to meal that's both healthy and nourishing. 

Lambs Liver Meatballs

by Meghanne Reburn

Prep Time: 10

Cook Time: 15-20

Ingredients (24 meatballs)

  • 454g Organic/local lambs liver
  • 454g Extra lean grass-fed ground beef
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 2 tbs dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dijion mustard
  • 1 tbs nutritional yeast
  • sea salt and pepper to preference

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350C

Finely chop lamb liver until it's almost a mushy paste (sounds gross but it's okay..don't panic). You may use a food processor to do this if chopping isn't your thing.

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix by hand. Form small balls about the size of a ping-pong ball. Should make 24 balls. Place on cookie sheet and set in oven until cooked. Mine took about 20mins but it will vary depending on the size of your meatballs.

Cool and serve with zucchini noodles, kelp noodles or on a pillow of cauliflower mash. These also taste great with a bit of coconut oil or butter on top!

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5 Paleo Powerhouses for a healthy CaveGirl Pregnancy

"What should I eat?", I hear this almost every day! It can be so confusing navigating all the nutritional advice for pregnancy and optimal fertility. I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents and give you a short list of 5 Paleo Powerhouse foods that are often overlooked in our diets. These foods support your fertile body as your grow a little Cavebaby and can help prepare  you for pregnancy as well as breastfeeding.

 #1 Fermented Cod Liver Oil: Fermentation allows the oil to be separated from its source without heating and without changing the structure of the oil. This optimizes the  nutritional components and keeps all of the beneficial nutrients intact. Fermented cod liver oil is extremely high in fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K2 (stay tuned for a super informative micronutrient post), all of which are splendidly important for pregnancy and fertility. Does it taste good? Not in the least. There are however certain brands that taste better than others. Green Pastures carries a line of excellent flavoured oils you can buy online if your local store doesn't carry them.  

#2 Pumpkin Seed Butter: Yes, PSB contains Omega-6 but in the context of a healthy paleo/primal menu, it has it's rightful place. Not only is this little gem high in protein  (10g/serving), it's also high in zinc, multiple forms of beneficial vitamin E, tryptophan, magnesium and iron. All key nutrients for a pregnant Cavemama. Plus it tastes delicous...unlike powerhouse #1 and is has funky green colour, which will totally gross out your friends and family. There is value in that.

#3 Gelatin: A rich source of amino acids as well as protein, gelatin helps our connective tissues (which are stretching and growing), skin, nails and hair stay healthy and look great. It also helps to support the lining of our guts, aiding in digestion as well as essential liver function. Both of which can be challenged in pregnancy. You can get gelatin by making your own bone broth or by taking a Collagen Hydrolysate powder. I use Great Lakes Brand. It's flavourless and easy to use, either in a recipe (see my recipage for some ideas) or added to a hot liquid, like tea or soup.

#4 Liver: Sorry folks, but liver is great. Liver is one of the best sources of iron, b-vitamins, zinc and vitamin A. Gram for gram, it contains the riches sources of nutrients  than any other food and it's also super affordable!  I always recommend organic grass-fed liver, as conventionally raised animals may have come into contact with high amounts of hormones, pesticides or toxins, all of which will be present in their meats. 

I think they even look kinda "fertile".  Mother nature know's her stuff.

I think they even look kinda "fertile".  Mother nature know's her stuff.

#5 Avocado: Besides being creamy and absolutely delicious, the avocado is an excellent food for pregnancy and fertility. Avocados have a unique nutrient profile being high in vitamin A, C, E, zinc, ALA omega-3 fats and selenium. What a total gem!  

No I didn't forget coconut oil or eggs!  I had to choose just 5! They deserves their own posts..so please standby !  

What foods do you consume the most during your pregnancy or while trying to conceive ?