Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: Can a person get enough vitamin A from milk, fortified cereal and other sources without eating dark green and orange vegetables?
A: You could get all the vitamin A you need without vegetables at all. But carotenoid compounds – beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin – found in dark green and orange vegetables are important for more than making vitamin A in the body. These vegetables have antioxidant compounds that can protect our cells from highly reactive “free radicals” that could damage cells and lead to cancer, heart disease and other health problems. In addition, dark green vegetables are a major source of folate, a B vitamin with many health-protective functions. Dark green and orange vegetables are one part of what you need for good health: these and other vegetables and fruits provide nutrients Americans need more of like potassium, a mineral that can help control blood pressure. They also supply a host of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are natural compounds found in plant foods that seem to block several steps in cancer development. Regardless of where else you get vitamin A, aim for at least five servings every day of a variety of vegetables and fruits, and then add more for additional health and weight control benefits.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $95 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is part of the global network of charities that are dedicated to the prevention of cancer. The WCRF global network is led and unified by WCRF International, a membership association which operates as the umbrella organization for the network.The other charities in the WCRF network are World Cancer Research Fund in the UK (www.wcrf-uk.org); Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds in the Netherlands (www.wcrf-nl.org); World Cancer Research Fund Hong Kong (www.wcrf-hk.org).