Ever wondered why some vegetables and fruits are brightly colored? Well, this could be traceable to compounds known as carotenoids. Generally, these are natural pigments produced by plants to absorb and convert light energy. A typical example of a carotenoid is beta-carotene. Let’s take a closer look at what it is and the foods highest in beta carotene.

See also 10 Foods That Boost the Immune System and Orange Color Fruits.

What is Beta Carotene?

Beta carotene is a pigment in plant foods, including carrots, other orange-colored foods, and some vegetables like leafy greens. When consumed, beta carotene gets converted into vitamin A, essential for normal vision, growth and development, immune system, and reproduction, among others.

Also, beta carotene, on its own, can boost your health, including fighting free radicals that may lead to cell damage and, eventually, disease.

Benefits of Beta Carotene Consumption

Consuming beta carotene comes with several benefits. They include.

1. Better eye health

Beta carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, an essential nutrient for healthy eyes and strong vision. Vitamin A helps produce rhodopsin, a protein within the retina that helps us see in low-light conditions, like at night. That’s why a deficiency in vitamin A often leads to night blindness.

Also, vitamin A helps maintain a clear cornea (the outside covering of the eye), which is essential for good vision.

Beta carotene is also an antioxidant, meaning it helps protect the eye cells from free radical damage. This damage can lead to various eye conditions, including cataracts and macular degeneration.

Additionally, beta-carotene helps maintain healthy cell membranes, further protecting the eyes from oxidative stress.

2. Skin protection

Studies have shown that antioxidants such as beta-carotene can improve the health and appearance of your skin.

Vitamin A promotes the production of collagen and elastin, two important proteins that promote skin elasticity and integrity. This can prevent fine lines and premature wrinkles.

Beta carotene and other carotenoids have also been shown to protect the skin from environmental damage like UV exposure and pollution.

Additionally, vitamin A can increase cell turnover, which may help improve skin hyperpigmentation, sunspots, and age spots.

3. Improved cognitive function

A clinical study found that men who consumed high dosages of beta-carotene supplements for more prolonged periods had better memory and less cognitive decline than those who took a placebo.

Additionally, the consumption of beta carotene can also reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder.

In a lab study, a mouse model of streptozotocin-induced Alzheimer’s disease experienced improved oxidative stress and cognitive impairment after natural beta-carotene supplementation.

4. It’s a powerful antioxidant

Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant that can help neutralize free radicals in the body.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause cell damage. This may result in premature aging and various chronic conditions, including cancer.

Beta carotene works by disarming these free radicals, thus preventing their dangerous effects on the body.

5. Boosts immunity

Beta carotene can reduce inflammation and boost immune function by increasing immune cell numbers and their activity.

Also, carotenoids, in general, have been shown to repair DNA damage and prevent oxidative damage to lymphocytes ( a type of white blood cell involved in immunity), thus reducing the risk of various diseases.

Promotes a healthy mucous membrane

The mucous membrane is a protective epithelial layer that lines your internal organs and various cavities, including the nose, mouth, lungs, and stomach.

The mucous membrane contains mucus glands that secrete mucous to keep these surfaces and cavities moist and protected from invasive pathogens, abrasive particles, and body fluids.

Foods Highest in Beta Carotene

1. Sweet potatoes

sweet potatoes peeling

Sweet potatoes are one of the richest sources of beta carotene, especially the orange-fleshed ones. The purple varieties are mostly rich in anthocyanin, another type of pigment that’s also very beneficial to your health.

So when choosing which sweet potato to eat for more beta carotene, go for the orange ones. Overly, a cup of baked sweet potatoes contains 1.92 micrograms of beta carotene, equivalent to approximately 214% of the daily requirement of Vitamin A.

That’s too much from a single source, and the best part is that being a natural source, the high amounts don’t pose any risk.

Sweet potatoes are also high in other essential nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, and manganese.

Sweet potatoes can be enjoyed in various ways, including boiling, baking, and pureeing. You can easily throw some baked sweet potato into your salads, make sweet potato chips or add it to curries and soups.

2. Carrots

When you think of carrots, I’m sure the first thing that comes to mind is eye health. This is because the information that carrots are good for your eyes has been passed to us from generation to generation, and it has been nothing but the truth.

Carrots are an incredible source of beta-carotene, the main nutrient behind these perpetuated benefits. 100 grams of cooked carrots can offer up to 8279 mcg of beta carotene, biotin, vitamins C and K1, and potassium. Generally, regular consumption may protect against eye conditions, lower cholesterol, and promote weight loss.

To enjoy these benefits, slice your carrots into sticks and enjoy them with hummus. You can also boil, steam, roast, and serve as a side dish.

You can also top any salad of choice with grated or sliced carrots or juice them with other vegetables like beetroot and some ginger.

3. Broccoli

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) is a cruciferous vegetable similar to cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, and cabbage.

It’s a good source of various nutrients, including potassium, vitamin K, iron, and important antioxidants like lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, and kaempferol.

Besides the beta-carotene benefits discussed above, kaempferol may protect against cancer, inflammation, heart disease, and allergies.

It’s also a good source of sulforaphane, another powerful antioxidant with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

You can enjoy it raw in salads or with a dip, roasted, steamed, sautéed, or made into soup.

4. Peas

If you are vegan, peas are probably a staple in your dishes. They are a great plant-based source of protein as well as zinc. They also offer a good amount of fiber, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and E.

In addition, they contain flavonols and carotenoids. A regular intake of this legume has been associated with reduced inflammation and risk for chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.

Peas can be boiled, steamed, or stirred into other dishes, such as pasta or fried rice, during cooking.

While dried peas are available, fresh or frozen green peas are always easy to cook, bringing out their texture and flavor best.

5. Romaine lettuce

I always look forward to my vegan caesar salad, and that reminds me of romaine lettuce. Its refreshing juicy taste and crisp texture with a little hint of bitterness balance well with a tangy lemon-dijon dressing.

While its cousin iceberg can be a great substitute, romaine is superior with high levels of beta carotene, vitamins A, C, and K, folate, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and manganese.

A cup of shredded romaine lettuce contains approximately 2.4 micrograms or 2,456 micrograms of beta carotene, which is equivalent to 24% of the recommended daily value of vitamin A.

So while you may prefer iceberg because it lacks bitterness, adding a good dressing can carb any bitterness and help you enjoy the benefits of this vegetable.

You can also enjoy it in wraps or sandwiches.

6. Butternut squash

Butternut, also known as Cucurbita moschata, is a type of winter squash that has a similar taste to pumpkin. As a starchy vegetable, butternuts have a yellow skin that usually turns orange when ripe. Similar to other vegetables, butternuts also provide various nutrients, including beta-carotene.

Notably, a cup of cooked butternut squash contains 1.1 micrograms of beta carotene or approximately 127% of the recommended daily vitamin A requirement.

It’s also an abundant source of vitamins C and E, both powerful antioxidants with different functions in the body.

Vitamin C can help scavenge free radicals and prevent oxidative stress, while vitamin E can protect against premature aging.

Butternut squash can also help maintain a strong immune system and prevent common winter-related illnesses.

Besides making soup, you can enjoy it baked in salads or curry. Some may prefer using it in various baking recipes like bread and pancakes.

7. Spinach

This common green smoothie ingredient is another common source of beta carotene, 100 grams of cooked spinach can offer up to 6103 mcg of beta carotene, while raw spinach has a slightly less amount of 5600.

Spinach is also a good source of vitamins C, B6, and K, iron, folate, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

Regular consumption may control blood sugar levels in diabetes, improve bone health, fight cancer, and lower the risk of iron deficiency anemia.

8. Collard Greens

Another rich source of beta carotene is collard greens. A cup of collard greens can provide you with 722 micrograms beta carotene, which corresponds to about 80% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A.

Collard greens are also a rich source of vitamins C and K, potassium, calcium, folate, and antioxidants like alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), which has been shown to improve insulin resistance, lower glucose levels, and improve liver health.

Collard greens can also improve bone health, aid digestion, improve mental health, fight cancer, and maintain healthy skin and hair.

9. Kale

Kale is one of my favorite vegetables, and it’s undoubtedly one of the healthiest and most nutritious among cruciferous vegetables. A cup of cooked kale provides 190 micrograms of beta carotene, which is equivalent to 21% of the daily required value of vitamin A.

Kale is also a good source of copper and magnesium. Copper is an essential mineral for good health. It can help boost immunity, promote nerve health, prevent free radical damage, including DNA damage, promote iron absorption, and help produce red blood cells.

Magnesium, on the other hand, can help regulate blood sugar levels, maintain normal blood pressure, improve sleep, and support bone health.

You can add kale to salads, make smoothies, sauté, boil, or bake them into kale chips.

11. Red bell pepper

red bell pepper beta carotene

Red bell pepper contains high amounts of beta-carotene and is also rich in fiber and vitamins. Specifically, a cup of raw, freshly chopped red bell pepper offers approximately 2.4 micrograms of beta carotene, which corresponds to roughly 23% of the daily value requirement of vitamin A.

Red bell peppers are also a good source of lycopene, another carotenoid found in red-colored vegetables like tomatoes. Its benefits include improving heart health, protecting the skin against UV light, lowering blood pressure, and preventing certain cancers.

You can slice the bell peppers and eat them raw, grill them, roast them, or put them in soup. You can also add them to sandwiches.

How Much Beta Carotene Should You Take?

Even though there is hardly any consensus on the dietary intake of beta carotene, scientists recommend that men should consume a daily intake of approximately 700 micrograms. On the other hand, women are recommended to consume about 600 micrograms daily.

For children under 3 years, a daily intake of 300 micrograms is sufficient, while children between 4-8 years should consume about 390 micrograms. Contrariwise, children above 9 years of age should consume around 600 micrograms daily.

Is too much beta carotene harmful?

While beta carotene may pose no danger when obtained from dietary sources, too much vitamin A may cause toxicity, especially if taken as a supplement. This is because vitamin A is fat soluble, meaning it is better absorbed in the presence of fat, which also means it is stored in the body’s fatty tissues. This will cause it to accumulate and become toxic.

The good news is, with beta carotene, the body only converts the amount of vitamin A it needs, so there’s no risk for toxicity.

Related Articles:

  1. 11 Best Beta Carotene Foods to Consume
  2. Best Diet for Longevity
  3. Foods for Glowing Skin
  4. Benefits of Raisins

Final Thoughts

Beta carotene is a plant pigment common in colored foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, romaine lettuce, peas, kale, and more.

It’s often converted to vitamin A, and together they are important for various functions, including boosting the immune system, neutralizing free radicals, fighting cancer, improving vision and skin health, and promoting cognitive functions.

While vitamin A as a supplement may cause toxicity, obtaining yours from food will help your body produce just enough vitamin A that the body needs to function properly without any side effects.

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