If you've ever wondered why we say that carrots help you to see in the dark – beta-carotene is the answer. Beta-carotene is a pigment found naturally in many plants and vegetables. It is what gives a vegetable its orange or yellow colour, in carrots for example.
Once consumed, the body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for good eye health as well as for healthy skin and a strong immune system. Studies have shown that beta-carotene and vitamin A play a vital role in preventing macular degeneration and other vision problems.
All carotenoids act as powerful antioxidants in the body, helping to stave off damage by free radicals. Beta-carotene is the most readily available of all carotenoids in the diet and so plays a role in helping to protect against a variety of diseases.
Early evidence suggests that beta-carotene can also help to prevent or treat asthma. However, beta-carotene supplements are not recommended for smokers.
Good sources of beta-carotene in the diet include carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli. Beta-carotene can also be taken as a supplement, typically in tablet or capsule form.