Carotenoids are one of the most widespread groups of naturally occurring pigments. These compounds are largely responsible for the red, yellow and orange in fruits and vegetables, however, they are found in many green vegetables too. The most famous are the carotenoids beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, lycopene , lutein, beta-cryptoxanthine, zeaxanthine and astaxanthine.
Some members of the family of carotenoids, from the approximately 50 600 known carotenoids, are called provitamin A compounds, because the body can convert them into retinol - the active form of vitamin A. As a result, foods that contain carotenoids can help prevention of vitamin A deficiency and the most commonly consumed provitamin A carotenoids are beta-carotene, alpha carotene, cryptoxanthine and beta.
Functions of carotenoids
Carotenoids are compounds that help fight cancer and used as an anti-aging agent. They are a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body's cells from damage caused by free radicals. Carotenoids, in particular beta carotene, can also improve immune function.
Carotenoids promote proper cell communication - researchers believe that poor communication between cells may be one reason for the excessive growth of cells - a condition that eventually leads to cancer. By promoting good communication between cells, carotenoids play an important role in preventing cancer diseases . Carotenoids also support and reproductive health of women.
Low intake of foods containing carotenoids is not known to directly cause disease or health complications, at least in the short term. However, if the intake of carotenoids is too low, it can cause certain symptoms associated with deficiency of vitamin A ro become evident. In the long run, this low intake is associated with chronic diseases, including heart disease and various cancers.
For its part, the high intake of foods and supplements containing carotenoids is associated with toxic side effects. Signs excessive consumption of beta-carotene include yellowish coloring, which most often occurs on your palms of hands and soles of the feet. This condition is called karotenodermia and is reversible and harmless. Excessive consumption of lycopene, in turn, can cause a deep orange color. It is, however, harmless.
Benefits of carotenoids
Carotenoids are substances that dissolve in fat and as such requires the presence of dietary fat for proper absorption through the digestive tract. Therefore, the status of carotenoids in the body can be disturbed by a diet that is extremely low in fat, or if a disease that causes reduced ability to absorb dietary fat by pancreatic enzyme deficiency, Crohn's disease , cystic fibrosis, surgical removal part of the stomach, gallbladder disease, and liver disease are present.
It was found that smokers and people addicted to alcohol eat fewer foods that contain carotenoids. It is also shown that cigarette smoke destroys carotenoids. This leads to the need for these people to obtain the necessary amounts of carotenoids from different foods and supplements.
Medicines to lower cholesterol associated with isolation of bile acids, lead to lower blood levels of carotenoids too. Also, some foods, such as margarine enriched with plant sterols and fat replacers that some snacks use, may reduce the absorption of carotenoids.
Carotenoids are essential for human health and help to prevent the following diseases: AIDS , age-related macular degeneration, angina, asthma, cataracts, cancer of the cervix, cervical dysplasia, heart disease, cancer of the larynx, lung cancer, male and female infertility, osteoarthritis, pneumonia, prostate cancer , rheumatoid arthritis , skin cancer, vaginal candidiasis and others.
Sources of carotenoids
Orange fruits and vegetables, including carrots, apricots, mangoes, pumpkins and sweet potatoes contain a significant amount of beta carotene, alpha carotene, cryptoxanthine and beta carotene.
Green vegetables such as spinach and cabbage also contain beta carotene, and are the best sources of lutein. There is lycopene in tomatoes, guava and pink grapefruits. Salmon, shellfish, milk, eggs and especially egg yolks also contain carotenoids.
These foods should be eaten raw or lightly steamed to preserve their carotenoids. In some cases, however, cooking can improve the availability of carotenoids in foods. For example, sautéing carrots and spinach improves the body's ability to absorb carotenoids in these foods.
It is important to note, however, that in most cases, continued cooking vegetables reduces carotenoid content by changing the shape of their natural trans configuration.
One needs to consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day to obtain the necessary daily amount of carotenoids.