The Benefits of Carotenes
Carotenes have health benefits as they’re a group of natural compounds produced by plants. These substances are responsible for the pigmentation of certain fruits and vegetables. In addition, they produce certain beneficial actions on the human body.
This term includes chemical compounds that contain carbon and hydrogen atoms. According to various studies, they’re natural antioxidants that have a preventive effect on diseases and are very important in nature. Continue reading to discover more!
The importance of carotenes in nature
Plants, in addition to producing chlorophyll, synthesize carotenes to efficiently capture sunlight. In other words, they’re a crucial aspect needed to carry out the photosynthesis. They absorb ultraviolet, violet and blue light, scatter orange or red light and, in smaller concentrations, yellow light.
When autumn arrives, the chlorophyll (responsible for the green color) is degraded and the other pigments remain. Thus, orange, red and yellow tones appear in carrots, pumpkins, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and some flowers. So, in the vegetable kingdom, carotenes are also responsible for the color of algae and fungi.
Additionally, in animal species they provide pigments to the feathers and beaks of some birds, the skeleton of crustaceans and the muscle or skin of fish. In fact, omnivores have yellowish body fat as a result of the retention and storage of these compounds in their diet.
In this sense, this pigmentation can also be found in animal products such as milk, butter or eggs.
How are they classified and how do they work?
Carotenes, also known as carotenoids or vitamin A precursors, are fat-soluble compounds. This means that their absorption can be improved by mixing them with lipids.
Contrary to most nutrients, cooking, chopping and sautéing foods that are a source of these actually strengthens their actions. They’re classified in two groups:
- Xanthophylls: lutein and zeaxanthin
- Carotenes: beta-carotene and lycopene
Of all of them, the predominant are beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein.
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Health benefits of carotenes
As we mentioned, carotenes have benefits related to the possibility of protecting the body from diseases and improving the immune system. Among their functions, the following stand out:
They help maintain eye health
Since these substances are precursors to vitamin A, they’re essential for maintaining eye health and preventing diseases such as blindness, night blindness, and dry eye. Therefore, we suggest incorporating at least 6 milligrams of this nutrient per day.
In this regard, one of the main causes of eye problems is the degeneration of the retina. In fact, continuous exposure to blue light is one of the causes. Fortunately, carotenes can absorb it and thus prevent damage and even stop progress.
They have cardiovascular benefits
Because carotenoids are compounds that have antioxidant actions, they decrease inflammation in the body. In this regard, scientific evidence shows that they reduce the risk of developing heart problems such as atherosclerosis, a disease in which cholesterol blocks the blood vessels.
They also help improve risk factors such as hypertension, abdominal obesity and glucose intolerance. All this reduces the possibility of a major cardiovascular event.
They slow down skin aging
Although skin aging happens naturally, ultraviolet rays are able to accelerate this process. In this sense, according to the study “Nutritional Importance of Carotenoid Pigments”, consuming adequate quantities of these nutrients protects the body against cell alteration and prevents skin damage.
Both lycopene and beta-carotene provide this effect. Supplements are also effective.
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They reduce the risk of disease
In addition to the actions already described, carotenoids help protect against the development of skin cancer. This is linked to their antioxidant potential and the delay in aging that eliminates cumulative cellular errors. In other words, the nutrient blocks changes in the cells that could lead to malignant degeneration.
Main sources of carotenes
The distribution of carotenes among the different groups of plants doesn’t present a unique pattern, but we can usually find them in vegetables and fruits with red, orange and yellow pigments. Among them are carrot, mango, red bell pepper, papaya, and tomato.
We can also obtain benefits from carotenes by eating peach, guava, plum, sweet potato, egg yolk, corn, pumpkin, kale, and tangerines.
Carotene benefits: what to remember
As you can see, carotenes have various benefits for human health. They’re antioxidant substances that help the body protect cells, tissues, and organs against the harmful effects of toxic substances. Therefore, they prevent health issues from developing.
For this reason, it’s important to consume a wide variety of foods that have high carotene content. We advise you to consult a nutrition professional for advice on which plants can strengthen your immune system, aside from the ones we’ve mentioned.
Also consider that carotenes are available in vitamin A supplements, but you should only use them under medical indication. Its excess can cause serious health complications.