It’s that time of year again when coughs and colds are doing their rounds. Keeping a strong immune system and healthy mucous membranes, which line your respiratory system are important factors in preventing but also recovering quickly from respiratory infections. In this article, I’m focussing on a particular nutrient that is often lacking in modern ‘new age’ nutrition, yet was abundant in traditional diets in many cultures around the world.
Vitamin A, found in animal fats such as egg yolks, full fat dairy products, liver and organ meats, whole small fish, and fish liver oil, is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for vibrant health. People who actively avoid animal fats for fear of cholesterol or weight problems, or who are vegetarian or vegan are the ones most likely to be deficient in this valuable nutrient. Deficiency symptoms include problems with eyes and vision, dry, bumpy skin especially on the backs of the arms and thighs, and recurring respiratory or gastrointestinal infections.
Beta-carotene, an orange pigment found in carrots, pumpkins and green vegetables, is often mistakenly called vitamin A. Several metabolic steps need to happen to convert beta-carotene to an active vitamin A molecule, and it may be difficult to get enough through eating vegetables alone. However, eggs laid from free-range chickens that eat green vegetation will have high levels of vitamin A because of their ability to make the conversion on our behalf.
Apart from supporting the health of your mucous membranes, vitamin A is also necessary for the following functions:
- Antioxidant – protects your cells against pollution, free radicals and cancer causing agents
- Stimulates your immune system – increases phagocytosis, antibody production, T-cell production and apoptosis (controlled destruction of old, diseased or infected cells)
- Works with vitamin C for building strong bones and teeth and maintaining the health of your connective tissue i.e. gums, blood vessels
- Stimulates secretion of stomach acid and enzymes for digestion and absorption of protein
- Increases absorption of iron and folic acid for good haemoglobin and rich blood
- Helps balance excess oestrogen and improves fertility
- Involved in steroid hormone synthesis
- Required for good thyroid and adrenal function – important for this modern fast-paced world
- Essential for healthy eyes and good eyesight
- Implicated in mental functions such as memory, learning, attention, sensory perception and language processing
- Facilitates liver detoxification
So if you’re prone to hay fever, sinus infections, coughs and colds, gastrointestinal disorders, low iron, poor eyesight or eye health, dry or scaly skin, have problems with your hormones, or need help to improve your memory and concentration, increase your intake of vitamin A and see how things improve.
I usually eat 2 free-range egg yolks (or the whole eggs), 1 – 2 cups whole (raw) milk, plus butter, cream and cheese on a daily basis, and have sardines, liver and kidneys occasionally to keep my vitamin A levels up. I also eat plenty of orange and green vegetables for the beta-carotene, and fresh fruit and frozen berries daily for vitamin C, which works in conjunction with vitamin A for healthy skin and mucous membranes. I haven’t suffered from any of the winter ills for a few years, and I owe it to keeping a nourishing diet and regular exercise.
Here’s a recipe that I sometimes have for breakfast if I’m not particularly hungry or I’m in a hurry – give it a go and let me know what you think!
Helen’s Breakfast Smoothie
1 cup full fat (raw) milk
2-3 free-range egg yolks
½ cup blueberries or boysenberries
2 Tbsp desiccated coconut
Vanilla essence to taste
¼ cup cream (optional)
½ banana (optional)
1 – 2 Tbsp ground nuts or seeds e.g. sesame, linseeds, chia, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts
Blitz together in a blender and enjoy.