The Kaleidoscopic Health Benefits of Carotenoid Foods

7 minute read

Have you ever wondered what makes oranges orange, watermelons pink (inside), corn yellow, and tomatoes bright red? The answer is carotenoids, a colorful plant pigment that makes any plate a painter’s palette.

These vivid compounds do more than just brighten up your meals, they also deliver a host of health benefits. The best way to get maximum goodness and health is by including a colorful mix of carotenoids in every meal.

Here’s what you need to know.

The Colors of Good Health

Orange: Carotenes are a rich source of vitamin A and can be found in orange to yellow fruits and vegetables. Most of these foods get their coloring from alpha- and beta-carotene.

The structure of these two carotenes means they can easily be converted by your body into retinol, which is one of the active forms of vitamin A.

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It is estimated that one third of our vitamin A requirements are met through these carotenoids, showing just how important they are to us. Vitamin A has several important responsibilities in the body.

We need this vitamin for vision, normal immune function, and the growth and specialization of cells.

Yellow: The xanthophylls get their name from the Greek word for yellow. You will recognize these in bell peppers and sweet corn, and they are essential to eye health.

Three specific xanthophylls are found in a very specific area of the eye, which is responsible for detailed vision. Since they are selectively deposited in this particular area, it is thought that they are essential for normal visual function.

It is believed that xanthophylls are involved in vision because their yellow color allows them to act as a filter over the delicate vision cells at the back of your eye.

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The process of vision results in the production of oxidative stress, so scientists believe that xanthophylls, which are antioxidants, protect the eye during this process and prevent oxidative damage.

Carotenoids and Cognition

Eating your fruits and vegetables can have a positive impact on your brain health. A night of cramming fueled by broccoli and apples will not gain you a perfect test score, but there is a definite link between fruits and vegetables and cognitive health.

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Specifically, regular intake of carotenoid-filled fruits and vegetables reduces cognitive decline in older individuals. Oxidative stress is thought to be the main culprit behind age-related cognitive decline and carotenoids are the best when it comes to reducing oxidative damage.

Several studies have been conducted to determine the impact carotenoids have on cognition. Adults with low levels of carotenoids in their system showed a significant improvement in memory after following a year-long course of supplemental carotenoids.

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They also experienced a reduction in the number of errors made on standardized tests. Another study found that with carotenoid supplements, individuals saw improved spatial memory, complex attention, and reasoning ability.

A carotenoid-rich diet can certainly do wonders for your brain.

Adding Color to Your Skin

Eating a carotenoid-rich diet will add some color to your skin. The condition known as “carotenoderma” is harmless, but the skin does develop an orange hue.

This coloring comes from the carotenoids being deposited through each skin layer. The contribution to skin color is subtle, but you can determine the intake of carotenoid -rich foods by measuring their skin color.

As powerful antioxidants, carotenoids are thought to provide benefits for skin health. Their bright colors also have the ability to absorb light, adding another benefit to your skin.

By absorbing light from the UVA and UVN spectrums, carotenoids may have the ability to reduce sunburn. Studies have found that redness of the skin is reduced when carotenoid mixtures are applied, indicating that they offer some protection from sun exposure.

Topical applications of carotenoids have also been shown to enhance the appearance of skin.  Not only does skin tone improve with regular application, but skin hydration is increased, and the appearance of wrinkles is diminished.

Carotenoids should be included as part of your daily diet plan to not only promote skin health, but to protect it from the various dangers we expose ourselves to.

Carotenoids, Your Heart and Cancer

Carotenoids can also enhance your cardiovascular health. With cardiovascular disease being the top killer in the United States, everything we can do to protect our heart health is essential.

Free radicals contribute to heart disease through the damage to heart cells and tissue they cause. The antioxidant strength of carotenoids is perfect for combating these compounds and protecting your heart from severe damage.

Although our bodies do produce antioxidants naturally, the ones we can get from plants provide additional support against oxidative damage.

Cell membranes are particularly vulnerable to oxidative damage because of their unsaturated fatty acids. The double bonds of these fatty acids within the membrane layers make them susceptible to oxidation.

Because carotenoids are lipid soluble, they are better able to protect the lipid membranes, thus preventing damage.

Our health depends on the integrity of cell membranes. Without them, cells age and die quickly, exposing us to serious disease.

While it would be overzealous to say that carotenoids can prevent cancer, studies have shown that they do contain properties which can combat tumor development. As a powerful antioxidant, carotenoids can protect against cancer as a regular part of your diet.

In addition to this, the acetylenics they contain are strong metabolites that interfere with tumor growth and support a healthy immune system. The combination of properties allows carotenoids to effectively fight bacteria and immune-related infections including cancer.

The Bottom Line

Carotenoids add the bright colors to our favorite fruits and vegetables but they do more than just catch our eye. Full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, these compounds protect and promote good health.

There is so much more than meets the eye with these colorful compounds, and a little color can go a long way. Brighten up your plate today with carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables and see the difference color can make in your life.

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