Beta-carotene is a natural substance found in many orange or red foods, such as carrots, pumpkins and peppers. It is a type of carotenoid, a class of bioactive compounds known for their antioxidant properties. But what is beta-carotene used for and why is it so beneficial for health and well-being?
Beta-carotene is one of the precursors of vitamin A, an essential micronutrient for the proper functioning of our body. In fact, it is involved in a number of fundamental biological processes, including skin health, vision, the immune system and cell growth.
Additionally, as an antioxidant, beta-carotene helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which can contribute to aging and chronic disease.
Beta-carotene supplements are also available, but it is important to always consult a doctor or nutritionist before taking any type of supplementation.
So here are the benefits of beta-carotene, the foods that contain the most and how to include it in the diet, even for an enviable tan.
What is Beta Carotene?
Beta-carotene is a natural compound belonging to the carotenoid family. It is a molecule synthesized by plants and found in many orange or red foods, such as carrots, pumpkins, melons, apricots and peppers.
Used in the food industry as a dye, in the pharmaceutical industry as a supplement and in the cosmetic industry for skin protection, beta-carotene offers many advantages thanks to its numerous properties.
It is a fat-soluble compound (i.e. that dissolves in fat) which plays the role of vitamin A precursor in our body. In other words, it is essential for its synthesis, which is why it is also called provitamin A.
As an antioxidant, beta-carotene plays an important role in protecting cells from damage caused by oxidative stress and free radicals, unstable molecules produced by normal cellular processes or by external factors such as pollution and stress.
Some studies have indicated that an adequate supply of beta-carotene with the diet can contribute to the prevention of cardiac or degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and can play a protective role in eye health.
To obtain all the benefits of beta-carotene, it is advisable to adopt a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, the main sources of this important carotenoid.
If you are interested in the topic, discover our in-depth study on carotenoids.
Vitamin A is expressed in μg of retinol equivalents (composed of 1 μg of retinol, 6 μg of beta-carotene and 12 μg of other provitamin carotenoids).
Therefore, the need for this nutrient ranges from 600 μg for adults, to 350 μg for children and adolescents, up to 700 μg during pregnancy and 1000 μg during breastfeeding.
Beta-carotene: what it is for, properties and benefits
Excellent ally of skin and hair, the benefits of beta-carotene are really many, from the cardiovascular system to the nervous and immune system. Here are the main benefits associated with the consumption of beta-carotene.
Beta-carotene, according to some research, improves cognitive functions thanks to its antioxidant effects.
However, the potential cognitive health benefits of supplements require further investigation. However, there is more and more scientific evidence on the consumption of fruit and vegetables in general, including those rich in beta-carotene, which would reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
Beta-carotene can help protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals and UV rays. Additionally, it may promote healthy, glowing skin by reducing inflammation and promoting cell regeneration.
Again, this is likely due to its antioxidant effects.
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that getting enough antioxidant micronutrients, including beta-carotene, can boost the skin’s defenses against UV radiation and help maintain healthy-looking skin.
Researchers point out, however, that the sun protection provided by dietary beta-carotene is considerably less than the use of a topical sunscreen.
Beta-carotene plays a decisive role in protecting eyesight. Once converted to vitamin A, it helps maintain eye health and can help prevent conditions like age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Research has shown that having high levels of carotenoids in the blood can reduce the risk of developing eye disorders, especially in smokers.
Consumption of this carotenoid has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease due to its antioxidant properties which can help prevent the oxidation of blood cholesterol, reducing the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries.
Vitamin A, derived from beta-carotene, plays a very important role in maintaining a healthy immune system.
Thus, it supports the body’s immune response and defense against infection.
Beta-carotene to fight free radicals
Beta-carotene acts as a powerful antioxidant, helping to neutralize free radicals that can damage cells, accelerate the aging process and promote inflammation.
It supports cell development and growth
Vitamin A derived from beta-carotene is essential for the growth and development of cells in the body.
Specifically, it is essential for the growth and repair of tissues, including those of the skin, mucous membranes, internal organs and bones, counteracting osteoporosis.
Beta-carotene: tanning ally
According to some studies, beta carotene is among the carotenoids that help protect the skin from sunburn, as it manages to reduce the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight. It is for this reason that integrating this substance a few weeks before sun exposure can amplify the effects of sunscreens with protection factor.
In reality, therefore, beta-carotene does not help to tan more or more quickly, but it facilitates a healthier tan without burning.
However, even if taking beta-carotene does not present particular risks, the side effect due to excessive intake is carotenodermia, which is not worrying anyway, just stop taking supplements or “eat” carrots or do not exceed 30 mg daily.
Foods richer in beta-carotene
It is foods of plant origin that contain the most beta-carotene. Among these, carrots are in first place, followed by spinach, some varieties of tomatoes, pumpkins, red peppers, apricots, melons, mangoes, broccoli and parsley.
However, there are also legumes such as beans and peas or milk, even if in small quantities.
Here are the foods richest in beta-carotene.
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Data source: Food Composition Database for Epidemiological Studies in America and CREA Research Center for Food and Nutrition.
Although there is no uniformity of scientific data on the usefulness of a beta-carotene supplement, taken instead through fruit and vegetables it can bring various benefits.
Beta-carotene supplements can be bought online or in herbal medicine but it is always important to consult your family doctor before taking them, just as it is good to distinguish synthetic ones from those derived from natural sources. Also, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The recommended dose may vary based on age, gender and individual needs. It is therefore important to follow the instructions or medical indications.
The maximum daily intake of beta-carotene tolerated in food supplements is 7.5 mg.
However, it must be said that 2 mg of this molecule are contained in 25 g of carrots, 50 g of spinach, 55 g of red pepper, 65 g of mango, 110 g of melon and 130 g of apricots.
Excess and deficiency of beta-carotene
In general, this carotenoid is considered safe when ingested through food.
However, large doses of beta-carotene supplements can cause a condition called “carotenodermia,” which manifests itself as a yellowish discoloration of the skin. Additionally, high levels of beta-carotene can be harmful to smokers, as they could potentially increase the risk of lung cancer.
It is therefore important to follow the recommended doses.
A deficiency of this carotenoid is very rare, also because it is a substance present in many foods, especially of vegetable origin.
It therefore does not lead to health problems, provided it is not associated with a vitamin A deficiency. In this case, however, some problems could be encountered, including: • Vision disturbances (dry eyes and macular degeneration). • Increased exposure to infections by pathogens due to a reduced function of the immune system. • Dermatological disorders, as vitamin A plays an important role in skin health and its regeneration.
However, following a balanced diet, including a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, can be avoided, without…