“We can make a commitment to promote vegetables and fruits and whole grains on every part of every menu. We can make portion sizes smaller and emphasize quality over quantity. And we can help create a culture – imagine this – where our kids ask for healthy options instead of resisting them.”- Michelle Obama.
The First Lady of the United States is creating a food revolution. She is propagating healthy and nutritious eating habits. It is widely recognized that you are what you eat. Nutritious food promotes mental and physical health. One of the most important nutrients for the body is beta carotene which is known for its vision boosting power. There are many other benefits of consuming beta carotene.
What is Beta Carotene?
Carotenoids are naturally occurring pigments found in plants which are responsible for imparting vibrant colors to fruits and vegetables. They are abundant in nature. It is estimated that there are 500 different carotenoids, including beta carotene, alpha carotene, lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin, distributed throughout the plant and algae world.
- Beta Carotene is a derivation of the Latin name for carrot, as this compound was first derived from the carrot roots.
- It is an organic compound which is chemically classified as a hydrocarbon and specifically as a terpenoid.
- It is a strongly colored pigment that imparts the yellow and orange fruits and vegetables their rich hues. Once ingested, it gets converted into vitamin A (retinol) which performs several biological functions within the body. Vitamin A also acts as an antioxidant that protects cells from the damaging effects of harmful free radicals.
- Beta carotene and several other carotenoids are also known as “provitamin A” because they act as precursors to the production of vitamin A in the body.
- Other carotenoids like lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin cannot be converted into vitamin A.
- About 50% of vitamin A in a vegetarian diet is provided by beta carotene and other carotenoids. Beta-carotene is also produced synthetically or from palm oil, algae and fungi.
- Vitamin A is involved in the formation of glycoproteins. It is essential for vision and is subsequently converted to retinoic acid which is used for processes such as growth and cell differentiation.
Nutritional Value of Beta Carotene:
When ingested into the body, beta carotene is converted to vitamin A (retinol) in the small intestines of the mammals by beta-carotene 15 and 15 monooxygenase, an enzyme. Excess retinol is stored in the liver and synthesized into active vitamin A in times of need.
It is one of the most common forms of carotene, is fat soluble but not water soluble. To ensure its proper absorption, 3 to 5 grams of fat should be consumed. Carotenoids suspended in oil are more absorbable than those in water and food. According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended intake of beta-carotene is 3000 international units (IU) and 2310 IU for adult males and females respectively.
Similarly, it recommends a dosage of 1650 IU for infants of 7-12 months of age, 1000 IU for children aged 1-3 years, 1320 IU for children aged 4-8 years and 2000 IU for children aged 9-13 years. Instead of consuming isolated beta-carotene supplements, it is often recommended to consume 15000 IU of mixed carotenoids per day for adults and children over the age of 13 years.
Carotenoid facilitates communication between cells by improving the expression of a gene that codes for connexin proteins. These proteins form pores or gap functions among cell membranes, thus allowing the cells to communicate through the exchange of small molecules.
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Health Benefits of Beta Carotene:
The primary beta carotene benefits can be attributed to the fact that it is involved in the formation of vitamin A which is vital for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Some of its health benefits are as follows.
1. Cardiovascular Health:
Taking a diet rich in beta carotene reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases to a significant extent. Beta carotene works with vitamin E to reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thus lowering the risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
2. Prevents Cancer:
Beta carotene helps fight cancer through its antioxidant capacity. Besides, it helps to keep your cells in proper communication, thus preventing the growth of cancer cells. Hence, dietary intake of beta carotene rich foods lowers the risk of breast, colon, oral cavity, and lung cancers.
3. Good for Brain:
Research has proven that consumption of betacarotene is beneficial for your brain as it significantly delays cognitive ageing. Moreover, it can fight oxidative stress that can damage brain cells over time, thus reducing the risk of dementia.
4. Treatment of Respiratory Ailments:
High intake of beta carotene foods helps increase lung capacity and relieve respiratory ailments, thus preventing breathing disorders like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.
5. Prevents Diabetes:
Various studies have shown that people with adequate levels of beta carotene in their bodies are less likely to suffer from impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes.
6. Prevents Macular Degeneration:
Age related macular degeneration is an eye disease in which the macula of the eye, responsible for central vision, starts to break down. Consumption of adequate levels of beta carotene (15mg) along with other nutrients can slow down the progression of age related macular degeneration (ARMD).
7. Prevents Rheumatoid Arthritis:
Deficiency of beta carotene and vitamin C acts as a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis. Thus, consumption of adequate levels of beta carotene is necessary to prevent the occurrence of this condition.
8. Strengthens Immune System:
Beta carotene strengthens your immune system by activating the thymus gland which is one of the most important sources of immune protection. The thymus gland enables your immune system to fight off infections and viruses, thus destroying cancerous cells before they can spread.
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Skin Benefits of Beta Carotene:
Beta carotene is converted into vitamin A which is vital for the maintenance of healthy skin. Your body converts as much vitamin A from beta carotene as it needs; high doses of this vitamin can be toxic. The benefits of this pigment for skin are as follows.
9. Imparts a Healthy Glow:
Beta carotene prevents premature skin ageing by acting as an antioxidant, a substance that reduces oxygen damage caused by UV light, pollutions and other environmental hazards like smoking. Consumption of adequate levels of beta carotene imparts a natural glow to your skin, thus making it more attractive and beautiful. Excess intake however, should be avoided as it can cause the soles of your feet, palms of your hands, your nose and even the white portion of your eyes turn pumpkin yellow in color.
10. Reduces Sun Sensitivity:
High doses of beta carotene make your skin less sensitive to the sun. Thus, it is particularly beneficial for people with erythropoietic protoporphyria, a rare genetic condition causing painful sun sensitivity as well as liver problems. Moreover, it can boost the effectiveness of sunscreen. Consumption of about 90 to 180 mg of beta carotene can reduce sunburn and provide an SPF of 4. Therefore, foods containing beta carotene or supplements can be coupled with sunscreen to enhance its effectiveness.
11. Treatment of Oral Leukoplakia:
Oral leukoplakia is a condition characterized by white lesions in the mouth or tongue which is caused by years of smoking or drinking alcohol. Consumption of beta carotene reduces the symptoms and risk of developing this condition. However, it is advisable to consult your physician before taking beta carotene supplements for treatment of leukoplakia.
12. Treatment of Scleroderma:
Scleroderma is a connective tissue disorder characterized by hardened skin. It occurs due to low levels of beta carotene in your blood. Beta carotene supplements are thought to be helpful for people with scleroderma. However, research is still going on in this regard and so you should consult your physician before using these supplements.
13. Treatment of Skin Conditions:
Beta carotene is effective in the treatment of skin conditions like dry skin, eczema and psoriasis. Vitamin A, being a powerful antioxidant, is involved in the growth and repair of body tissues and hence, protects the skin against damage. When applied externally, it helps in treating ulcers, impetigo, boils, carbuncles and open ulcers, and removes age spots. It also speeds up the healing of skin lesions, cuts and wounds.
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Hair Benefits of Beta Carotene:
Beta carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body which is necessary for all cell growth including hair cells. Consumption of beta carotene can help you get rid of various hair problems. However, high doses of vitamin A can also cause hair loss .I is advisable to consume beta carotene from food sources rather than taking vitamin A supplements. Beta carotene is beneficial for your hair in the following ways.
14. Prevents Dandruff and Other Hair Problems:
Deficiency of vitamin A can cause dry, dull, lifeless hair and dry scalp which can flake off into dandruff. Hence, consumption of foods rich in beta carotene is inevitable for preventing these conditions.
15. Spurs Hair Growth:
Hair thinning, particularly among females, is caused due to poor nutrition. Thus, if you are suffering from hair loss, it is advisable to consume the recommended daily allowance of beta carotene to stop hair loss and encourage hair regrowth.
Sources of Beta Carotene:
Beta carotene is mostly abundant in fruits and vegetables which are green, yellow or orange in color. Some of the fruits, vegetables, herbs or nuts which have the highest content of beta carotene are given in the list below.
|Brussel sprouts||450 µg|
|Collard greens||3842 µg|
|French beans||379 µg|
|Mustard greens||6300 µg|
|Sweet potato||8509 µg|
|Swiss chard||3647 µg|
|Persimmon fruit||253 µg|
|Nuts and seeds:|
Looking at all the benefits of beta carotene, it becomes imperative to include it in your diet. Choose innovative options to include it in your diet and avoid monotony – beet juice, one pot of broccoli spaghetti and steamed colored peppers are some of the delicious options you can try.
Always consult your doctor before taking supplements and choose food based sources rather than medicines. Stay Healthy, Stay Happy!
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