Though carotenoids are widely accepted as health-promoting compounds in food, people’s knowledge towards them may be limited to this. This article will have a description of carotenoids and their health benefits.
Carotenoids are a class of mainly yellow, orange, or red fat-soluble pigments widely found in microorganisms, plants, animals and human beings. They exhibit a variety of bioactivities such as antioxidant, antitumor and immunomodulation
Carotenoids are classified into two main groups: xanthophylls and lutein. Main carotenoids include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, gamma-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, and so on. Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, gamma-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin are provitamin A carotenoids and they can be converted into vitamin A in the human body.
Plants and microorganisms can synthesize carotenoids themselves while animals and humans can’t, and they must obtain carotenoids from plants like fresh fruits and vegetables. Different colored vegetables are usually rich in different carotenes, like
- Yellow or orange vegetables and fruits contain rich alpha and beta-carotenes;
- Orange fruits have high Beta-cryptoxanthin;
- Dark green vegetables are good sources of Lutein;
- Lycopene comes mainly from tomatoes;
Carotenoids have a variety of biological advantages. Regular intake of carotenoids-containing food is good for your health. There are five health benefits of carotenoids.
1. Potent antioxidant
Carotenoids have significant antioxidant activities that can help prevent aging, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, tumors, etc. Some epidemiological studies have shown that lycopene, beta-carotene and lutein intake could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, and help prevent atherosclerosis.
2. Prevent cancer
Dark green fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids can reduce the incidence of cancer. Lycopene exhibits significant anti-cancer effects and could effectively prevent the occurrence of a variety of cancers.
3. Boost the immune system
Carotenoids are a natural immune booster. Lycopene and beta-carotene are reported to reduce oxidative damage to immune cells and upregulate certain interleukins to boost the immune system.
4. Protect vision
Lutein plays an important role in healthy vision. It can protect your eyes from harmful high-energy light waves like ultraviolet rays. An increased intake of lutein can obviously prevent and improve age-related eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration and cataract.
5. Maintain the health of epithelial cells
Beta-carotene can be converted in the human body into vitamin A which is an important element for maintaining the health of epithelial cells. Vitamin A deficiency can increase epidermal keratinization and squamous metaplasia of the mucous membranes in respiratory epithelium, and the breakdown of these natural barriers will make people susceptible to getting infections.
You are what you eat, and it is wise to include carotenoid-containing foods in your daily diets. Adults and teenagers are recommended to consume 6 to 15 mg of beta-carotene per day to obtain sufficient vitamin A.