Smorgasbord Health Column – Just Food For Health – Nutrients We Need – Vitamin A or Retinal and Beta Carotene.

health column final

It is two years since I posted the series on the nutrients we need in our daily diet to maintain our health.  Each week I will explore a different nutrient and and best sources to ensure that you receive sufficient amounts in your diet. I hope that even if you remember the series from two years ago that you will still find interesting.

I do take supplements but they should only be that… supplemental.. and not your main source of any particular nutrient.

The body has evolved over many thousands of years to process food precisely to extract the nutrients it contains. There is a delicate eco-system within our bodies that requires that precision when it comes to maintaining a healthy balance. The systems that process our food are unable to extract these essential nutrients from industrially produced foods, however many vitamins and minerals have been added during the production process.

When the body does not receive the nutrients in the right format, ill-health results including cancer, chronic auto-immune conditions such as arthritis, fertility issues and increased risk of infections.

As you will see from the article that I link to at the end of the post, a deficiency can lead to life altering conditions. In the case of too little Vitamin A this can be eye disease including blindness.

First a note about vitamins in general.


These include all the B vitamins, vitamin C as well as Folic Acid.  They are not easily stored in the body and are often lost in cooking or by being eliminated from the body.  This means that they must be consumed in constant daily amounts to prevent deficiencies.  In the case of Vitamin C this could lead to poor immune system function and if you are deficient in the B vitamins you will not be able to metabolise the fat, protein and carbohydrates that you eat.


These vitamins include A, D, E and K.  Because they are soluble in fat they tend to be stored in the body’s fat tissues, fat cells and liver.  This means that they should be supplemented with care if you are already taking in plenty on a daily basis in your diet.  In excess even supposedly beneficial nutrients can be toxic and this is why you always should adjust your diet first before taking in additional supplements.

Vitamin of the Week – Vitamin A or Retinal and Beta Carotene.

Vitamin A or Retinol was actually the first of the fat-soluble vitamins to be identified, in the States in 1913.  It is only found in animal sources but some plants contain compounds called carotenoids, which give fruit and vegetables their red, orange and yellow colours.  The body can convert some of these carotenoids including beta-carotene into Vitamin A.

What is Vitamin A essential for?

Vitamin A is essential for our healthy eyesight, especially at night, hence the name retinal from retina.  The retina contains rod cells and these contain pigments that can detect small amounts of light and therefore adapt the eye to low-light or night vision or are responsible for our day time vision. Vitamin A is particularly necessary for the synthesis of rhodopsin the photopigment involved in night vision.

Vitamin A also helps ensure that our cells reproduce normally.  It is necessary for the health of our skin, the mucus membranes in our respiratory system, digestive and urinary tracts.  Our bones and our soft tissues require Vitamin A as part of the complex nutrient cocktail that keeps them from disease.

For younger people, Vitamin A has a direct influence on their reproductive capabilities.  It has been shown to have an effect on the function and development of sperm, ovaries and the placenta.  The growth and normal development of the embryo and then the foetus depends on a good level of the vitamin in the diet.

Our immune system is our first line of defence and it requires a combination of anti-oxidants and nutrients to be robust enough to cope with the stress of modern life and disease. Vitamin A is vital for this protection system as it stimulates the function of white blood cells within the immune system, encourages the production of antibodies to fight infection as well as increase our anti viral abilities.

What are the best food sources of Vitamin A?

The most abundant source of the vitamin is found in liver, fish liver oils, butter, cheese, free range eggs and oily fish.

Beta carotene is the substance from plants that the body converts to Vitamin A and the best sources are carrots, sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables, orange and red coloured vegetables, apricots, asparagus, broccoli, cantaloupe melon, cashews, nectarines, peaches, peppers and spinach.

Most of us are already including carrots and leafy green vegetables but recently I have been substituting sweet potato two or three times a week for my carrots. There is some interesting studies in the benefits of eating this slightly sweet vegetable, particularly to children.  I would also suspect that it would be beneficial for elderly people too especially those who are at risk of poor eye health.

My recommendation for a great source of Vitamin A.

The sweet potato only shares a name with the white variety that we normally eat as it is a root not a tuber. It is high in beta-carotene that is converted by the body into vitamin A and it also contains substantial amounts of Vitamin C, Folate, Vitamin B6, Calcium and Potassium.

Great for your eyes, skin, heart and low on the glycemic index helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

The importance of sweet potatoes as a staple crop in countries where eye disease and blindness is far too common in children is seen in this article.

An estimated 43 million African children under the age of five are threatened by vitamin A deficiency, a condition causing blindness, disease and premature death. CIP scientists and extension workers promote the consumption of the orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) varieties known to be high in beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) in a food based approach to combating vitamin A deficiency. The challenge is to breed OFSP varieties that meet consumer preferences and can compete with the traditional white- and yellow-fleshed varieties.

The rest of the article can be found here:

How I prepare sweet potato.

If I am going to mash the potato I do peel and then steam with a little water, seasoning and a knob of butter for 12 minutes and then mash with a little more butter. (beta carotene is absorbed better with a little fat.)

Alternatively I scrub the skins and prick the outside with the fork before baking in the oven for around 25 to 30 minutes.. Test with a fork.. Cut the potato in half and add a knob of butter and eat with a large salad for supper or with your main meal.

I enjoy fresh carrot and sweet potato soup.. Peel and chop into large chunks and steam with a little water. Blend with some butter, seasoning and half a cup of water.. When heated add a little milk to give a creamy consistency.

I suggest three servings a week added to your daily main meal or as a soup for a light lunch.

©Sally Cronin 2018

A bit about my nutritional background.

A little about me from a nutritional perspective. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago. I qualified as a nutritional therapist and practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as being a consultant for radio. My first centre was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Here are my health books including a men’s health manual and my anti-aging book.

All available in Ebook from

And Amazon UK:

Comprehensive guide to the body, and the major organs and the nutrients needed to be healthy 360 pages, A4:

Thank you for dropping in and if you have any questions fire away.. If you would like to as a private question then my email is I am no longer in practice and only too pleased to help in any way I can. thanks Sally


Medicine Woman’s Larder – Carrots – All the way from Afghanistan.

Medicine Womans larder

The humble carrot is a vegetable most of us take for granted. Carrots have an ancient history originating in Afghanistan.  The Greeks and the Romans ate carrots and in fact, the Greeks called the carrot ‘Philtron’ and used it as an aphrodisiac.  Don’t all rush to the supermarket!

carrotsIn Asia, the carrot was an established root crop and was then introduced to Europe in the 13th century.  It was the Middle Ages before the carrot became better known and doctors of the time prescribed carrots for numerous ills including snakebite!  In those days, the carrot was available in far more radiant colours including red, purple, black, yellow and white.  They were cultivated together and over time, it resulted in the orange vegetable we know today.

The Elizabethans on receiving the carrots from mainland Europe did some rather strange things with them.  Some ate the roots but others used the feathery foliage for decoration in hats (Ascot) and on their clothes.  I am sure like every fashion statement this may come and revisit us at some point.  The colonists took the carrot to America but they were not cultivated there until the last couple of centuries.


Carrots eaten as a fresh, raw and unprocessed food is full of nutrients including Vitamin A (retinol), beta-carotene (turned into Vitamin A in the body), other carotenoids, B Vitamins, Vitamin C and minerals calcium and potassium.  Of all of the nutrients, Beta-Carotene and latterly Alpha Carotene are seen as the most important properties of the carrot.  As far as the eyes are concerned it is the Vitamin A and the Beta-carotene which are the most important nutrients. Vitamin A, helps your eyes adjust to light changes when you come in from outside and helps keep your eyes, skin and mucous membranes moist.

Vitamin A also prevents night blindness. If the vitamin A deficiency causing night blindness is not corrected, it can then lead to a condition called xerophthalmia, causing extremely dry eyes, possibly corneal ulcers and swollen eyelids. If left untreated, xerophthalmia can lead to blindness. In fact, vitamin A deficiency is one of the leading causes of blindness in developing countries. Vitamin A may possibly prevent cataracts from forming and may help prevent macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in the world.

Beta-carotene is one of about 500 compounds called carotenoids, which are present in most fruit and vegetables. The body changes beta-carotene into Vitamin A, which promotes a healthy immune system and healthy cell growth.  The body can only change so much beta-carotene into Vitamin A and any excess boosts the immune system and is a powerful antioxidant in its own right.  Antioxidants prevent free radical damage to cells, tissues and most importantly to the fat in our bloodstream that can lead to blocked arteries and heart disease.

Alpha carotene has often been overlooked in carrots but some interesting studies in Japan indicate that Alpha carotene might be even more powerful than Beta-carotene in the fight against cancer. As far as our general health is concerned, carrots play an important role in neutralising acid in the body.


The word acid comes from the Latin word acere, which means sour.  The term has been applied to chemical compounds containing the element hydrogen and having the ability to supply positively charged hydrogen ions to a chemical reaction.

Most acids are sour as opposed to most alkalis, which are bitter.  Acid is also corrosive to metals and will change litmus (a dye from lichens) red and neutralise alkalis.

All acids have similar properties to each other because they all release hydrogen into solutions. Acidity is measure using the pH (potential of hydrogen) scales.   The scale runs from 0 to 14.  All acids have a pH measurement between 0 to below 7 on the scale.

Acids are present in all living organisms including the human body.  Acids in plants react differently than acids in protein rich foods such as animal products. All foods are burned in the body leaving an ash as a result, if the food contains a predominance of sulphur, phosphorus, chlorine then an acid ash is produced.

The body has developed different strategies to ensure that the balance between acid and alkali is optimum for each of its different organs and systemic functions.

For example citrus fruit, in particular one that has a sour taste like the lemon, contains high levels of citric acid and is classified as an acid food.  However, the ash that is produced is alkaline. The negative charges on the citrate ions are balanced by positively charged metal ions, such as calcium and potassium.  The citrate is oxidised away during this process to carbon dioxide and water and excreted leaving the calcium and potassium behind.  As alkalis they in turn are balanced by other acidic properties such as bicarbonate or chloride to ensure that the correct pH balance is maintained.  This is an alkaline reaction resulting from ingesting an acid food.

Most animal proteins contain sulphur amino acids and phosphoprotein.  When these are metabolised by the body they become sulphuric and phosphoric acids.  Therefore these foods are said to be acid forming. The lower the pH level, the higher the acidity forming property of the food.

Optimum health and energy begins as with every function in our bodies with balance.  The pH balance of our bodies is not only crucial, it is the essence of our survival and the body has evolved very efficient methods of maintaining this critical balance of acidity and alkalinity in our blood and the major organs of the body.  All cells, organs and fluids have their own preferred pH values in order to operate at peak performance.

Outside influences as well as internal balancing strategies play a part in effecting the pH balance of the body.  Stress, diet, nutrition, levels of exercise and environmental pollution are a major part of our lives today and most of our chronic illnesses are associated with our bodies becoming more acidic than alkaline.

A minor deviation from the optimum balance can have a devastating effect on the operating systems of the body and can lead to coma and death so the body has a number of buffer systems to maintain that balance. When the blood is too alkaline the heart contracts and ceases to beat and when too acidic it relaxes and ceases to beat.

Eating carrots and other vegetables and fruits that burn to an alkaline ash in the body help balance both the acidic ash foods we consume and some external stress triggers.  This means that your proportion of vegetables and some fruits should be higher in relation to grains and some proteins in your diet.  Eating more fish than red meat will help reduce the acidic load as will reducing the sugar content in your daily diet.

The vegetable is versatile and apart from eating regularly with a main meal during the week you can amplify its nutritional punch by combining it with sweet potatoes or squash in soups and oranges in a fresh pressed juice. They are lovely with a little butter and also mashed or roasted with other root vegetables.

Next time…Aubergines.. eat your purples.

©sallycronin Just Food For Health 2007

Please feel free to share and if you have a favourite carrot recipe then please let us have it.






Smorgasbord Health – The Lungs – Foods that support the respiratory system

I hope that I have already established over the last three here in the health posts that eating a natural, unprocessed diet at least 80% of the time is essential to your health. As is reducing the refined sugars which impact the ability of your immune system, to clear the body of toxins, and to provide an effective defence system.

In addition there are certain nutrients that are of specific benefit to the lungs and if you have a weakness in this area, such as repeated bronchitis  or other chest infections, you should consider including more of the particular foods in your diet on a regular basis.

I advise that you obtain these nutrients from food sources as this is the most effective way for the body to process and use. Taking supplements is not something to contemplate lightly. Whilst it might seem cost effective to respond to the cheap adverts in the papers it can be a false economy with much of the tablet passing straight through you without any impact on your nutritional health. However, during an illness or when you are recovering, you might consider taking a high quality supplement under the guidance of a qualified nutrititional advisor or pharmacist.

The old saying “Trust your gut” is very appropriate in relation to our immune system and our general health. By eating a balanced and varied diet you will be supporting the billions of flora in your gut that are essential for the efficient digestion and processing of the food that you eat. Without the right balance of bacteria you would not be able to process and harness the energy from carbohydrates or the nutritional benefits of fats. Your healthy diet of vegetables and fruit would be a waste of time without the right elements to process and extract the vitamins and minerals to deliver to the body.

Back to the 80/20% rule.. If 80% of your diet is natural, unprocessed foods your gut bacteria will have plenty to work with. Here are some of the specific nutrients that support your respiratory system.. Provided you have nurtured the processing plant of bacteria in your gut!


Vitamin A, which is a wonderful antioxidant, has a specific role in the lungs. It prevents damage to the small hairs (Cilia) inside the bronchial tubes that help move mucous and trapped toxins out of the lungs. Vitamin A is converted by the body into a number of other substances that are crucial in the efficiency of our immune systems by stimulating the activity of the killer cells, macrophages and other blood cells.


Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin mainly found in Liver, Fish Liver oils, Butter, Cheese, Free Range Eggs, Oily Fish. Beta-carotene is converted from plant sources by the body into Vitamin A and is found in Carrots, Green leafy vegetables, Orange and Red coloured Vegetables. Particularly apricots, asparagus, broccoli, butter, cantaloupe melon, carrots, cashews, cheese, nectarines, peaches, peppers and spinach.


There is some evidence to suggest that Vitamin C can help prevent oxidative damage to tissues in the lungs and it is therefore another reason to enjoy a diet that is rich in fresh fruit and vegetables. If you are still a smoker or have recently given up it is a good idea to also take a Vitamin C supplement of at least 1,000 mg per day to help your lungs recover more effectively. Vitamin C will also boost your immune system and help your body fight off infections. Tomato and Onion soup is a wonderful expectorant, as well as being packed with other nutrients to support you while you recover.

brussel sprouts

Vitamin C is water soluble and found in all fruit and vegetables with best sources being Blackcurrants, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cherries, grapefruits, guavas, kiwi fruit, lemons, parsley, peppers, rose hips, potatoes, tomatoes and watercress.

nuts and seeds

Vitamin E, which is another powerful antioxidant, may also help relieve breathing problems particularly for emphysema sufferers and can be taken from food sources and also in supplement form but under the supervision of a health professional.


Vitamin E is fat soluble and found in nuts such as almonds and walnuts, sunflower seeds and their oil, whole grains like maize, egg yolks and leafy green vegetables like spinach. Also found in apples, bananas, broccoli, brown rice, carrots, lamb’s liver, onions, Sunflower oil, oily fish and shellfish.


Quercitin is an antioxidant flavonoid, which inhibits the activity of cells that release histamine from mast cells. It works very well with Vitamin C and might help relieve the symptoms of allergic asthma. It is also an anti-inflammatory, which should help relieve some of the symptoms associated with lung problems. Eating foods that contain Quercitin every day may help prevent infection in the first place but certainly they should be included any diet during the first few days and during recovery.

green tea

Quercitin is found in apples, onions, garlic, green tea, green leafy vegetables and beans.

pumpkin seeds 2

Zinc, in conjunction with Vitamin C, is a powerful combination that can assist the normal healing processes in the body. I take both as supplements if I feel I am about to come down with an infection and with the inclusion of lots of citrus fruit in my diet I can usually shake off a cold before it gets a chance to take hold. Zinc helps repair damage in the body and for men approaching middle age it may help prevent an enlarged prostate or possibly other health problems. Certainly, eating a handful of pumpkin seeds which are rich in other nutrients too will do more good than harm for your entire body.


The best food sources for Zinc are seafood (particularly oysters), pumpkinseeds, sesame seeds, wheat germ, egg yolks, black-eyed peas and tofu.

Thanks for dropping by and as always would love your feedback.  Sally