Beta-Carotene is a red-orange coloured pigment found in fruits and plants. It is an organic compound that is chemically classified as a hydrocarbon, specifically as a terpenoid. Beta-carotene is responsible for giving the fruits and vegetables their rich colours. If eaten with fats, absorption of beta-carotene is enhanced since carotenes are fat soluble.
Beta-carotene is a precursor (inactive form) to vitamin A. It is converted into vitamin A (retinol) by the human body. Vitamin A is necessary for maintaining a healthy eye vision, a healthy immune system, and your general health. Beta-Carotene is an antioxidant.
Health benefits of beta-carotene
Beta-carotene is a flavonoid compound. Its powerful antioxidant properties help to protect the body from free radicals. Free radicals can cause a variety of chronic illnesses. They can cause damage to cells through the process of oxidation. Antioxidants actually help to inhibit that oxidation process, thus limiting the damage to cell membranes.
Dietary intake of foods abundant with beta-carotene helps to reduce cardiovascular diseases. It also helps to reduce the risk of developing cancer. A healthy intake of beta-carotene helps to reduce oral cavity as well. Beta-carotene after getting converted into vitamin A, by the body, also helps with growth and development, maintaining epithelial functions and reproductive functions (sperm production).
Beta-carotene helps to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women before menopause. It is also used to minimize the risk of macular degeneration, a medical condition that may result in blurred or no vision.
Beta-carotene rich foods
Beta-carotene is responsible for the orange colour of many vegetables and fruits. Following are some of the Beta-carotene rich foods.
• Crude palm oil and Vietnamese gac are rich sources of beta-carotene, They have beta-carotene ten times greater than carrots, and other known plant sources. However, Vietnamese gac is quite rare, and crude palm oil is usually processed to remove the carotenoids to improve clarity and colour, before sale.
• Orange and yellow fruits like mangoes, papayas, cantaloupes, and pumpkins are rich sources of beta-carotene.
• Beta carotene is abundant in carrots, sweet potatoes, and yams.
• Green leafy vegetables like kale, sweet potato leaves, spinach, and sweet gourd leaves contain beta-carotene as well. The colour of beta-carotene is masked by chlorophyll in these green vegetables.
It is recommended to get the necessary amount of beta-carotene through the daily intake of natural food rich in beta-carotene. Beta-carotene supplements are found to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. The advantage of dietary beta-carotene is that the body will turn it into vitamin A only as much as it needs. However, that is not the case with supplements.