If we think of bright orange or yellow vegetables, foods rich in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant with a multitude of functions and benefits for our health, will surely come to mind , especially for the skin and the immune system.
Beta carotenes, as their name suggests, belong to the group of carotenes, a group of antioxidants also made up of alpha carotenes, lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin and capxanthin. These substances, included in our daily diet, provide us with an antioxidant and protective effect in general.
Beta-carotenes, in particular, are also precursors of vitamin A (provitamin-A), which are converted into this vitamin when the body needs it. In fact, beta-carotenes are the most common type of provitamin A.
What are the benefits of beta carotenes?
Beta-carotenes, as antioxidant substances, help the cells of our body to protect themselves from free radicals , which is why, among other things, they help prevent premature aging, but beta-carotenes also have other beneficial effects:
• As we anticipated, it is a precursor of vitamin A , an essential vitamin that helps, among other things, to the good condition of the skin, eyesight, bones and teeth . It is also essential for protein metabolism. If we eat a diet rich in beta-carotene, we prevent the deficiency of this important vitamin.
• Stimulates the immune system by strengthening the body’s natural defenses , since it favors the production of white blood cells. For this reason, they help prevent and fight infections.
• Eating foods rich in beta-carotene helps activate melanin, the body’s natural protection against the harmful rays of the sun. It is especially beneficial in people with sun sensitivity.
• Helps prevent cardiovascular diseases (of the heart and blood vessels), of the stomach (by protecting the mucous membranes) and of the respiratory system. In fact, some studies suggest that it could decrease asthma attacks.
• Like all antioxidants , it helps reduce the risk of developing some type of cancer.
• As they point out in Nutri-facts , beta-carotenes would help slow down the development of age-related macular degeneration.
Where do we find beta carotenes?
We find beta-carotene in large quantities in some orange vegetables, such as sweet potato or persimmon, but also in others with yellow and green tones:
• Yellow and orange vegetables: carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin , yellow pepper …
• Yellow and orange fruits: apricots, papaya, persimmon, mango, peach, plum, nectarine, pineapple …
• Dark green vegetables: mustard greens, spinach, watercress, broccoli, kale, endive … In these cases, the green color of chlorophyll in large quantities ‘camouflages’ the characteristic orange color of foods rich in beta-carotene.
• Other foods of plant origin such as barley, algae, paprika, parsley, raisins …
In principle, if we eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and include foods rich in this substance, we do not need to take supplements, neither this antioxidant nor vitamin A. In fact, taking a beta-carotene supplement in large quantities and during a long time can cause side effects such as yellowing of the skin , especially on the palms of the hands. It can also be harmful in some cases, then. As stated in Nutri-facts, “a prolonged supplementation with high doses of beta-carotene (20 mg / day) can increase the risk of lung cancer or death in smokers and people who have worked with asbestos.” Supplementation with vitamin A without a prescription is also not recommended, as it can be dangerous during pregnancy and lactation.
Tips to make better use of them
To improve the bioavailability of beta-carotene , that is, so that our body absorbs more of this nutrient , we can:
• Cook food with a quick cook , for example steaming or sautéing it.
• We can accompany you with a fatty element : avocado, olive oil, nuts … Well, fats improve their absorption and their conversion into vitamin A. Five grams is enough.
• Chewing food well also helps the release of this phytonutrient. Whipping or mashing them also helps.
• Avoid alcohol, as it reduces the effectiveness of beta carotenes.