Have you ever puzzled why flamingos are pink? It’s not truly their organic make-up; it’s their food plan. These huge, boldly coloured birds eat a sort of algae that their digestive system breaks down into red-orange carotenoid pigments. That red-orange hue then turns their feathers and pores and skin a vibrant shiny pink.

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Errr … carote-what?!

Carotenoids are pigmented nutrients which are chargeable for lending shade not solely to flamingoes’ favourite algae, but additionally to lots of the rainbow-hued fruits and veggies you see within the produce aisle at your native grocery retailer.

Though you’re not a flamingo, you may also profit from a food plan wealthy in carotenoids. Registered dietitian Devon Peart, RD, MHSc, explains what carotenoids are, why they’re so necessary and what makes a colourful plate such a wholesome one. 

What are carotenoids?

Just consider carotenoids as nature’s meals coloring.

“Carotenoids are pigments that give red, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables their color,” Peart says. “They’re made by plants and algae, as well as some bacteria and fungi.”

There are greater than 600 forms of carotenoids, however they fall into two essential lessons that differ in molecular construction and within the colours they create. We received’t go into the tremendous scientific molecular stuff, however listed below are the fundamentals:

  • Xanthophylls are oxygen-containing molecules with yellow pigments. You might need heard of two widespread xanthophylls — lutein and zeaxanthin —that are present in leafy inexperienced veggies.
  • Carotenes are non-oxygen-containing molecules, they usually’re orange-pigmented. Common examples embrace beta-carotene (hey, carrots!) and lycopene (watermelon is stuffed with it).

What do carotenoids do on your physique?

While synthetic dyes and pigments can pose well being dangers, carotenoids have zero downsides. They’re primarily all wholesome, the entire time. That’s as a result of all carotenoids are antioxidants, that are a class of chemical compounds that happen naturally in meals.

If the phrase “chemical” makes you panic a bit of bit, take a breath: Chemicals is usually a good factor. And antioxidants are a actually good factor.

They assist your physique battle free radicals, that are unstable molecules that, if left unchecked, can result in one thing referred to as “oxidative stress.” Oxidative stress is chargeable for all kinds of sickness and illness.

“Antioxidants protect your cells from the damage that oxidation causes,” Peart explains. “They help reduce your risk of disease, including cancer and heart disease.”

Common carotenoids embrace:

  • Alpha-carotene.
  • Beta-carotene.
  • Beta-cryptoxanthin.
  • Lutein.
  • Lycopene.
  • Zeaxanthin.

Here are a few of the methods these carotenoids give your physique a lift:

Promotes eye well being

Macular degeneration is a watch illness that contributes to imaginative and prescient loss. But two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin (each xanthophylls), can assist. They’re generally present in leafy greens like spinach, kale, broccoli and collards.

“These antioxidants can help prevent macular degeneration or, if you already have it, they can help slow or halt its progression,” Peart says. “They also help protect against long-term exposure to blue light, which is the type emitted from screens — so get your video game-playing kiddos to eat their broccoli!”

Lowers your most cancers threat

Changing your food plan can reduce your risk of cancer by as a lot as 40% — and a nutritious diet is one which’s bursting with carotenoid-heavy meals. “All carotenoids are antioxidants, which protect cells and decrease your risk of certain cancers,” Peart states.

More analysis is required to determine precisely which carotenoids play a job and the way, however research shows that they will decrease your threat of:

Keeps your coronary heart wholesome

For a top-notch ticker, incorporate carotenoids into your food plan.

“In addition to their antioxidant effect, carotenoids are anti-inflammatory, which helps protect the heart and prevent blockages in the walls of the arteries,” Peart notes.  

Research is ongoing about precisely how carotenoids assist promote coronary heart well being, however they’re thought to be linked to a decrease charge of cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

Protects towards the measles

Your physique turns some carotenoids into vitamin A, which retains your immune system wholesome. But in lots of elements of the world, individuals don’t get sufficient of this crucial vitamin.

Importantly, vitamin A deficiency raises the chance of extreme an infection from the measles, which could be lethal, notably in lower-income international locations. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that kids who’ve the measles be given vitamin A dietary supplements to decrease their threat of extreme sickness.

Are carotenoids the identical as vitamin A?

Carotenoids and vitamin A aren’t the identical factor, however there’s a relationship between them. Your physique can convert some carotenoids (aptly named provitamin A carotenoids) into vitamin A, which is concerned in cell development, organ perform, immune assist and eye well being.

“The most ‘famous’ provitamin A carotenoid is beta-carotene, though there are a few lesser-known ones, too, like alpha-carotene,” Peart clarifies. “Your body converts these provitamin A carotenoids into vitamin A once they reach your gut.”

Provitamin A carotenoids are present in:

  • Green, orange and yellow greens, like spinach, candy potatoes, carrots and broccoli.
  • Orange and purple fruits, like cantaloupe, mangoes and apricots.

But you shouldn’t essentially prioritize provitamin A carotenoids over their different carotenoid counterparts. They’re all wholesome!

“Other carotenoids can’t be made into vitamin A but are still important,” Peart says. “Lycopene, for example, helps protect skin from sun damage and is found in watermelon and tomatoes. Others include lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect your eyes and are found mostly in leafy greens like kale and spinach.”

Foods excessive in carotenoids

As you’ve in all probability guessed by now, heaps of meals are wealthy in carotenoids. So, what do you have to be consuming? Well … all of it!

“As with all nutrient-rich foods, variety is always best,” Peart shares. “Micronutrients, including carotenoids, are widely distributed amongst foods. If you always eat the same vegetables or the same fruits, you’ll get lots of certain nutrients and miss out on others.”

To get a stability of carotenoids, incorporate quite a lot of brightly coloured fruits and veggies (together with leafy greens) into your food plan. Here are some meals which are excessive in carotenoids:

  • Apricots.
  • Bell peppers.
  • Broccoli.
  • Cantaloupe.
  • Carrots.
  • Guava.
  • Grapefruit.
  • Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, and many others.).
  • Mangos.
  • Pumpkin.
  • Red peppers.
  • Spinach.
  • Sweet potatoes.
  • Tangerines.
  • Tomatoes.
  • Watermelon.
  • Winter squash.

Here’s a useful tip for making ready carotenoid-rich meals: Vitamin A is fat-soluble, that means it’s absorbed together with fat. And you should utilize that information to your benefit.

“You can help your body to better absorb vitamin A by first dicing or shredding your vegetables to increase their surface area, and then cooking them in a heart-healthy oil,” Peart advises.

What about dietary supplements?

Foods which are wealthy in carotenoids are wealthy in different vitamins, too — and the various well being advantages they supply don’t all translate into complement type.

“Food should always be our primary source of nutrients, rather than supplements,” Peart encourages, “unless there is a specific need that can’t be met with food.” Even then, a healthcare supplier ought to be the one to provide the inexperienced gentle on dietary supplements.

Instead of turning to dietary supplements, flip to your native produce aisle, and begin stocking up on a rainbow of wholesome choices — the extra colourful your meals, the higher!

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