Beta carotenes: what are they and how to include them in the diet?

Beta carotenes are a group of pigments of vegetable origin that are part of the group of carotenoids. The human body cannot produce them and, therefore, they must be ingested with the diet. Its colors are very striking, such as yellow, orange or red.

In the journal Nutrición Hospitalaria they highlight that the presence of the chemical group called β-ionone it is what gives them the ability to convert into retinol, an active form of vitamin A. In addition, its antioxidant activity allows it to boost the immune system, protect the skin against solar radiation and prevent atherosclerosis.

Do you want to include foods rich in beta-carotene to your diet? Here we tell you how to enrich the eating plan and improve health.

What are the benefits of beta carotenes?

The benefits of beta-carotenes are due to the fact that are precursors of vitamin A and its powerful antioxidant activity. Let's take a closer look at the advantages of including them in the diet.

Vitamin A precursor

The United States Health Information Service indicates that beta-carotene and other carotenoids provide about 50% of vitamin A necessary in the diet. Its deficiency can lead to night blindness, eye infections, dry eyes, and keratosis.

Read also: Foods rich in vitamin A, where to find them?

Antioxidant activity

The antioxidant activity of beta carotenes has to do with their ability to neutralize free radicals. But what are they? It is a group of very unstable substances that are formed during the metabolism of cells and that, when produced in high quantities, oxidize their components, causing them to lose specific functions.

These free radicals are also formed from cigarette smoke, excessive physical exercise, sunlight and drugs, so we are always exposed. However, according to the authors Criado and Moya, beta-carotenes are capable of stopping them, maintaining normal functions.

Beta carotenes and their role in atherosclerosis

Some studies, such as that of Zamora, have observed a lower risk of coronary heart disease complications in people with high beta-carotene intake. Carotenoids can prevent oxidation of the bad cholesterol or LDL that clogs the arteries, while it is able to increase the good cholesterol or HDL, as has also been confirmed with vitamin E.

Beta carotenes help reduce the oxidation of cholesterol, which decreases the form of LDL that clogs the arteries.

Skin protectors

Beta-carotenes also have the property of capture free radicals that produce UV radiation from the sun on the skin. That is why it appears as a common component of sunscreen creams.

Cancer prevention

In the journal Perspectives in Human Nutrition it was published that beta-carotene reduces the risk of skin cancer caused by UV radiation. Nutrients magazine endorses that beta-carotene is a photoprotector that blocks photochemical reactions in the epidermis.

Ingestion of beta-carotene may be effective in preventing breast cancer in high-risk premenopausal women. However, other specialists found an increase in the mortality of lung cancer in smoking patients supplemented with this antioxidant. Thus, more research is required to ensure the effect in cancer prevention.

Improved immune system

Beta-carotene as a precursor to vitamin A is important to prevent the development of autoimmune diseases. Vitamin A, for example, has a direct effect on the defense system by allowing the formation and differentiation of white blood cells.

Some clinical studies have found that beta-carotene supplements increase the number of white blood cells and natural killer cells.

Foods rich in beta carotene

Beta carotenes are contributed in greater quantity by vegetables, such as leaves, roots and some fruits. Their vivid yellow, orange, and red colors are often masked by the green of chlorophyll, especially in leafy vegetables.

The magazine Nutrition Hospital presents the main foods that are sources of beta-carotene and other carotenoids consumed in Spain. Let's see.

Sweet potato or sweet potato

Sweet potato or Solanum melongena owes its orange color to the high concentration of beta-carotene, with values ​​greater than 9000 micrograms%. It can be eaten roasted, cooked, pureed or in the microwave.

Cabbages

Cooked kale contains 6200 micrograms% beta-carotene. In collard greens we can find up to 4400 micrograms%. They can be prepared sautéed with garlic and olive oil, in soups, added to juices and steamed, among others.

Raw watercress

Known in the scientific world as Cucurbita pepo L., have a value of 5900 micrograms%. Watercress salads with spinach, carrots and avocado are a delicious way to increase your beta carotene intake.

Ketchup

The red in ketchup doesn't just indicate the presence of lycopene. A good part of its pigments are beta carotenes, which can reach up to 5000 micrograms%. It makes an excellent side to baked potatoes, hamburgers, meatloaf, and rotisserie chicken.

Cooked spinach

The famous spinach, Despite the greenness of their leaf, they mask a large amount of beta-carotene. They provide 4600 micrograms%. They can be prepared in English, French style, sautéed with garlic porro and butter, steamed.

Also read: 5 recipes with spinach that you should include in your diet

Fruits

Inside the fruits, pink grapefruit provides us with about 1,300 micrograms% beta-carotene, followed by the medlar, with almost 1000 micrograms%. Passion fruit and lechoza have 540 and 240 micrograms%, respectively. Mango and mandarin provide between 150 and 200 micrograms%. The ideal is to consume them in juices, smoothies or processed as strains.

Carrot

There is no doubt that the carrot o Daucus carota L. It is one of the main sources of beta carotenes. Their values ​​vary according to the processing.

Raw, for example, provides 6,600 micrograms / 100 grams of carrot, while cooking increases the values ​​up to 8100 micrograms. The processed or canned can reach up to 9100 micrograms / 100 grams.

Arugula

Arugula is a very green leaf that contains about 3,500 micrograms of beta-carotene / 100 grams of food. We can eat it in salads in its raw form, in nachos, in sandwiches, seasoned with virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Red pepper

Red bell pepper reaches high beta carotene values ​​when cooked. It can contribute up to about 2,200 micrograms%. Other red peppers have slightly less, between 400 and 700 micrograms%. It is exquisite roasted on the grill, in creams, stews or salads.

Carrots are the classic example of foods with beta carotene, but there are many vegetables that are richer in the substance.

How to take advantage of beta carotenes from food?

Experts assure that beta carotenes are better absorbed when food is cooked, crushed or dissolved in a fatty medium. These pigments are stored in chromoplasts, some in the form of crystals like in carrots, and others are bound to proteins. So you have to extract them to take advantage of them.

Heat and grinding allow to break cell walls and denature proteins so that beta-carotenes are released and available for digestion. Also, they dissolve better when fat is used.

It is recommended to consume foods rich in beta-carotene in cooked, sautéed, baked forms, in cream soups and purees.

Beta carotenes as supplements

According to MedlinePlus, the daily intake of beta-carotene has not yet been established, as more studies are needed in this regard. However, some doses have been approved in scientific research for certain particular conditions, such as sunburn.

On the contrary, in the magazine Clinic of Nutrition a dose of 2 to 4 milligrams per day of beta-carotene is reported to be likely effective in enhancing its preventive effect.

Beta-carotene is safe as long as it is taken in the recommended dose for the specific medical condition. But you have to be careful with supplements, as very high amounts in the long term turn the skin yellow or orange.

High doses are not recommended during pregnancy and lactation. Nor in certain special conditions, such as angioplasties, smoking or exposure to asbestos.

How should you include beta carotenes in your diet?

There is no question of the beneficial effects of beta-carotene as a powerful antioxidant. The best way to consume it is naturally.

Eat fruits or vegetables rich in this substance, preferably well crushed and cooked for a better use. Remember that you should always consult a specialist in medicine or nutrition about the amount to ingest according to your state of health.