Carotenoids are a group of phytonutrients that provide the yellow-orange-red pigments found in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, mangoes, pumpkin, tomatoes, papaya, peaches, squash, and other similarly colored foods. You may have heard of beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene, all of which are specific types of carotenoids.
While there are over 700 different carotenoids in nature, only about 60 are found in food. And the average person in North America eats fewer than a dozen different kinds and only in modest amounts.
Some carotenoids, specifically alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and cryptoxanthin, convert to vitamin A in our bodies, which is essential for healthy skin and vision. While carotenoids’ ability to form vitamin A is important, they play other valuable roles.
Not only do carotenoids help strengthen our eyesight and boost our immunity to disease, they are powerful antioxidants that help ward off cancer and protect against the effects of aging. Studies at Harvard University of more than 124,000 people showed a 32 percent reduction in risk of lung cancer in people who consumed a variety of carotenoid-rich foods as part of their regular diet.
Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) conducted a study of women who had completed treatment for early-stage breast cancer. Researchers found that women with the highest blood concentrations of carotenoids had the least likelihood of cancer recurrence.
Besides the brilliantly colored foods I mentioned earlier, dark green vegetables like broccoli, and leafy greens like collard, kale, and spinach also contain high amounts of carotenoids.
It’s easy to eat a carotenoid-rich diet just by paying attention to the colors on your plate at every meal. Try to include fruits and vegetables that are yellow/orange, red, and green at each meal and you’ll know that you are benefiting from many health-promoting carotenoids.
What are your favorite carotenoid-rich foods. I’d love to hear from you.
Subscribe to my free e-magazine World’s Healthiest News to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow me on Twitter @mschoffrocook and Facebook. Adapted from The Phytozyme Cure. Copyright Michelle Schoffro Cook.