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Carotenoids are chemicals that have nutritive properties and that exist in the pigment that colors plants and animals. As fat-soluble materials, carotenoids are ingested by humans in countless colorful fruits and vegetables. They are important as antioxidants and for their capacity to get converted to essential vitamins. Many health experts say that people should receive carotenoids by eating fresh fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet, rather than by taking supplements, because they are easier for the human body to use when ingested in natural foods.
Found in Colorful Foods
Different carotenoids are related to their manifest colors. Two of the general categories are carotenes and xanthophylls, with carotenes being present in yellow vegetables, and xanthophylls being found in green vegetables. Beta-carotene, an essential nutrient that the human body converts to vitamin A, is present in orange carrots, sweet potatoes and squash. Another type of carotenoid, lutein, exists in dark green kale, broccoli, yellow egg yolk and bell peppers. Red tomatoes, apricots, grapefruit, watermelon and papaya all contain another type, called lycopene.
Potential Health Benefits
When acting as antioxidants, carotenoids have been shown to reduce the damage caused by certain molecules called free radicals. A generous amount of these chemicals might prevent damage to cells and tissues as well as genetic damage. This means that they might increase a person's immunity to infection, reduce the risk of cancer and protect against heart disease.
The potential benefits of beta-carotene are believed to include preventing hardening of the arteries, which is associated with an increased risk of heart attack. Beta-carotene also preserves the health of the body's mucous membranes and lining of the lungs, which are among the body's first lines of defense against infection. Excessive amounts of beta-carotene, however, might bring a higher risk of osteoporosis or of lung cancer in smokers.
Carotenoids might help fight serious infections in people who have compromised immunity systems by boosting their white blood cell count. Lycopene has been associated with a reduced incidence of several types of cancer, including prostate cancer, colon cancer, bladder cancer and lung cancer. Zeaxanthin and lutein are believed to strengthen the eyes, protecting against cataracts and macular degeneration. Although some of these connections have yet to be clearly established through scientific studies and research, health experts typically recommend that people should consume the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables to get the full benefits of carotenoids.