Beta Carotene

Beta Carotene

Bright orange carrots, dark green broccoli and yellow winter squash not only have eye appeal, they are also good for your health. Nutrition professionals long have recommended choosing fruits and vegetables with deep rich colors for their abundance of vitamins and other beneficial substances. More than 500 of these substances belong to a group of nutrients called carotenoids. One such nutrient is beta-carotene, a yellow-orange carotenoid found in many orange vegetables and fruits, as well as dark green leafy vegetables. The deep orange or yellow color of the plant food means it is rich in beta-carotene.

Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A and is changed in the body to vitamin A, or retinol. Vitamin A is needed for healthy eyes and skin. In addition to its role as vitamin A, beta-carotene functions as an anti-oxidant, helping eliminate free radicals that may promote tumor growth. Research has been done on taking beta-carotene supplements to prevent or reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, but none have been proven effective. In fact, some studies showed an increase in lung cancer for smokers taking beta-carotene supplements. A recent study of 40,000 women and another study of 22,000 men showed beta-carotene supplements to neither help nor harm. Conclusions from research have most experts agreeing that taking large amounts of any one nutrient is not beneficial, and in some cases may be harmful.

On the other hand, beta-carotene from food sources may help decrease your risk of cancer. For years, studies have shown a lower incidence of cancer and other chronic diseases in people who consume high amounts of fruits and vegetables that may contribute to this beneficial effect. It is likely that many substances work together to provide protection, so it is best to get your beta-carotene from foods.

Foods high in beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, winter squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe and mangoes. Other good sources are dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, spinach, leaf lettuce and broccoli. Beta-carotene becomes most available to the body when vegetables are cooked, chopped or pureed.

Beta-carotene is not recognized as an essential nutrient in the same way as vitamin A, so there is no recommended intake for beta-carotene. Beta-carotene requirements for healthy bodies can be met with adequate fruit and vegetable consumption. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables supplies about five to six milligrams or 8,000 to 10,000 International Units of beta-carotene daily. However, a daily general multivitamin provides essential vitamins and nutrients that may be missing if your diet is not balanced. It is best to check with your doctor before taking supplements. Beta-carotene supplements are available in capsules or chewable tablets for those with medical conditions that warrant extra amounts of this nutrient. Beta-carotene supplements are found on the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list issued by the Food and Drug Administration. However, 30 milligrams or more of beta-carotene daily from supplements may cause yellowing of the skin, especially the palms of the hand and soles of the feet. This condition usually disappears when large amounts of beta-carotene are removed from the diet. If your body has high blood levels of vitamin A, it will convert less beta-carotene to vitamin A. If you smoke or have been exposed to asbestos, it is best to avoid beta carotene supplements.

Although changes in nutrition recommendations are based on clinical science and ongoing research, the best approach is a common-sense one: Balanced diet with ideally at least five fruit and vegetable servings daily, along with a healthy lifestyle. Here are some more ideas for increasing your intake of beta-carotene:ds of calories:

  • Include yellow, orange and dark green vegetables daily.
  • Cut up carrot sticks for snacks, bag lunches and pre-dinner munching.
  • Bake winter squash halves stuffed with rice and/or ground meat.
  • Toss vegetables such as kale, greens and broccoli into soups and stews.
  • Make a snack mix with pretzels, nuts and dried apricots.


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