Beta-Carotene, a red-yellow food pigment that turns to vitamin A in the body, has been on quite a roller-coaster ride during the past few decades. It enjoyed enormous popularity when scientists linked it with lower rates of heart disease and cancer. The mood changed, however, when researchers discovered that taking beta-carotene supplements seemed to increase the risk for some of these diseases. Now, as medical science learns more about this enigmatic antioxidant, beta-carotene’s reputation is ascending again, albeit more cautiously than before.
Beta-Carotene has established benefits, but the amounts that people need are well within the range they can get from eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day. So you do not need extraordinary amounts. There are definite risks with supplementation. Why are food sources of beta-carotene so much better than supplements? Scientists still are not sure, but they suspect that it may be because beta-carotene has at least 500 siblings, collectively known as carotenoids. It is possible that it is not just the beta-carotene that is causing the benefits but the combination of beta-carotene plus its less-recognized kin.
Lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes, for instance, may be considerably more potent than beta-carotene in the battle against cancer. When testing the effectiveness of each of these compounds in the laboratory, researchers found lycopene to be more effective than beta-carotene at inhibiting the growth of certain types of cancer cells.
In a study that proves that carrots really are good for your eyes, researchers found that people with the highest levels of carotenoids had one-third to one- half the risk of macular degeneration than those with lower levels. So the next time you’re in the produce aisle, be sure to fill your cart with plenty of carotenoid-rich foods like spinach and other dark green, leafy vegetables, and deep orange fruits and vegetables like pumpkins, sweet potatoes, carrots, and cantaloupe. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, cantaloupe, kiwifruit,
Navel oranges, papayas, strawberries, sweet potatoes, sweet red peppers and watermelons are rich in Beta-Carotene. Even though Beta-Carotene is one of the best-studied of the antioxidants, they’re only a small part of a massive army of protective compounds found in our food. For example, the minerals selenium and zinc also act as potent antioxidants. So do the phenolic compounds in green tea and the flavonoids in red wine.
It is has become established that everyone should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to ensure that they get healthy amounts of Beta-Carotene.