I love smoothies. Whether I’m trying to fit more nutrients in my day, or need some food on the run, I love having drinkable nutrition. Lately I’ve been craving beta-carotene-rich fruits and vegetables, so I’m doing a lot of smoothie-ing. Generally the terms beta-carotene and vitamin A are used interchangeably- but they are different!
Beta-carotene is a phytonutrient. Phytonutrients are compounds that give veggies + fruits their intense colours. These special nutrients provide protection and assistance to our immune systems with their antioxidant capabilities. Beta-carotene can only be found in plant foods. Beta-carotene is also a precursor to vitamin A, which means that it is converted to vitamin A in the body. For proper conversion, fat is needed as vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. So eat your carrots with butter (or coconut products in the smoothie!) for best conversion.
Beta-carotene is helpful for many ailments, including heart health, preventing vitamin A deficiency, eye health, lung health, prostate health, and hormone balance.
Vitamin A (retinol)
Unlike beta-carotene, vitamin A (AKA retinol) is only found in animal products. While it is possible to get sufficient vitamin A from converted beta-carotene, our ability to convert usually isn’t optimal. If you have a history of thyroid dysfunction and/or are diabetic, you most likely will not convert very well. To increase your chances of this conversion, always using fat with your beta-carotene foods is a must! This increase secretion of bile which is a key player in vitamin A conversion + absorption.
Good sources of vitamin A include cod liver oil, liver, butter and egg yolks. Vitamin A deficiency is characterized by some or all of the following: night blindness, heavy menstrual bleeding, hyperkeratosis (bumps on the skin), poor immunity and respiratory infections, to name a few.
Beta-Carotene + Vitamin A for Hormonal Health
Studies have shown vitamin A to be very helpful for PMS. Additionally, heavy and/or prolonged menstrual bleeding is a clear indicator of vitamin A deficiency. Supplementing with cod liver oil or a high-conversion beta-carotene smoothie (see below- wink, wink!) will go a long way to help with this symptom. Vitamin A is also essential for thyroid health. It is used in the production and regulation of thyroid hormones.
These nutrients are also extremely important in pregnancy, especially at conception and through the first trimester for proper fetal development. If you are trying to get pregnant, using Vitamin A and beta-carotene is essential for proper development of the follicle (future egg) in the ovaries.
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1-2 tbsp coconut milk kefir (or regular kefir)
- 1/2 cup mango, diced (fresh or frozen) [~1000 mcg beta-carotene]
- 1 medium carrot, chopped [~3600 mcg beta-carotene]
- 1 scoop protein powder, or 2-3 tbsp hemp seeds (optional)
- 1-2 raw egg yolks (use farm fresh, organic free-run eggs only!)
- 1-2 tbsp organic, virgin coconut oil
- Place all ingredients in a high powered blender and blend until smooth. Drink immediately.
Farhangi MA, Keshavarz SA, Eshraghian M, Ostadrahimi A, Saboor-Yaraghi AA. The effect of vitamin A supplementation on thyroid function in premenopausal women. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012 Aug;31(4):268-74. PubMed PMID: 23378454.
Mateljan, G. (2007). The World’s Healthiest Foods. Seattle: George Mateljan.