• Saturday, September 17th, 2011

Carotenoids are chemicals with nutritive properties that exist in the pigment that colors plants and animals. As a fat-soluble material, carotenoids are ingested by humans in countless colorful fruits and vegetables. They are important as antioxidants, as well as in their capacity to get converted to essential vitamins.

Carotenoids are organic pigments that are found in plants, vegetables, fruits and some photosynthetic organisms (algae, fungi, bacteria, etc.) giving them specific coloring. These pigments generally include lutein, lycopene, alpha carotene, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. Carotenoids occurring in green plant tissues tend to be covered by chlorophyll so that their presence only becomes evident after the green pigment has degraded – as it does when you cook the plant – or when it begins to die in the autumn. Carotenoids also bring natural color to organisms which themselves do not produce them, such as salmon, lobster and shrimp. When such creatures are deprived of carotenoids from the plants which they normally ingest, they lose their remarkable color.

Carotenoids are essential as antioxidants and they even can be converted into vitamins necessary for a human body. Statistically, the more fresh fruit and vegetables rich in carotenoids we eat, the less is the risk of cancer. Part of this is due to carotenoids’ powerful antioxidant activity, which as we’ve seen protects the body from free radical damage. Scientists estimate that there are probably more than 600 naturally occurring carotenoids in our foods, making them the most widespread pigments found in nature.

Generally speaking are vitally important for our health because:

  • They act in the human body very much as they do in plant cells. They offer protection as a cellular screen against photo-oxidative damage from the sun as well as from other kinds of free radical damage. They also help protect the skin from ageing.
  • They improve the flow of electrical or life energy from cell to cell in the body, enhancing what is known as gap junction communication. This means that small molecules bring nutrients to the cells with much greater ease.
  • They intensify the protective properties of interferon, a protein that we make in our body partly to inhibit the replication of viruses.
  • They have anti-tumor properties, helping to protect us from cancer and probably from many other degenerative illnesses as well.
  • A high intake of both beta-carotene and the other carotenoids is associated with a significantly reduced rate of skin cancer, lung cancer and cancer of the cervix.

When older people eat good quantities of leafy green vegetables – the equivalent of a large spinach salad each day – this significantly reduces the risk of macular degeneration. Eating a good portion of spinach each day delays the onset of age-related memory loss as well. Not only do leafy greens bring protection, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, rich in sulforaphane and indoles, help protect DNA from damage. Tomatoes, like many colorful fruits and vegetables, counter premature ageing too, thanks to their phyto-nutrient content.

Scientists estimate that of the 60 trillion cells in the human body, each one suffers 10,000 free radical ‘hits’ each day. And with rising levels of chemicals in our environment, it’s getting worse. Phyto-nutrients help protect us from oxidation damage. So make friends with the colorful vegetable kingdom. Build your daily meals around them by eating salads, and by cooking them in ways that preserve as much of their innate life-enhancing properties as possible.

So, the wider the variety of fruits and vegetables you eat, the greater will be the protective benefits from carotenoids. Eat more spinach and leafy greens such as silver beet, kale or collards, for instance, and you tap into a rich supply of zeaxanthin and lutein to protect the eyes and brain from degeneration.

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2 Responses

  1. 1

    Carotenoids are very important for us. Carotenoids represent one of the most widespread groups of naturally occurring pigments. These compounds are largely responsible for the red, yellow, and orange color of fruits and vegetables, and are also found in many dark green vegetables.
    Green vegetables, especially spinach, kale, and collard greens, also contain beta-carotene, and are the best sources of lutein.
    Lycopene is found in tomatoes, guava, and pink grapefruit. Salmon, shellfish, milk, and egg yolks also provide carotenoids.

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