Beta-carotene is a nutrient that gets converted in the body to vitamin A, which is an important vitamin for vision, a healthy immune system, cell growth, and healthy skin. Vitamin A and beta-carotene both work as antioxidants, helping to protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals. While your beta-carotene levels are mostly influenced by the foods you eat, your genes may also play a small role. AncestryDNA® Traits can tell you if people with DNA like yours tend to have typical beta-carotene levels.
If you remember being told to eat your carrots because they were good for your vision, that pers was probably referring to the benefits of their beta-carotene content. Beta-carotene is the compound that makes many fruits and vegetables orange, yellow, or red, and among its many benefits is good eye health and vision.
Another benefit of beta-carotene is skin health. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, and research has shown that antioxidants can help maintain the skin’s health and appearance and may provide some protection against free radicals such as those caused by UV radiation from the sun.
As a precursor to vitamin A, beta-carotene is also important for a healthy immune system, as well as cell growth and reproduction. There have been some studies which indicate that thanks to its antioxidant properties, beta-carotene could help improve cognitive function and may reduce the risk of certain cancers (including lung cancer, breast cancer, and pancreatic cancer). But research into this is ongoing, as the evidence is not yet conclusive.
Most people in the United States who eat a balanced diet with a range of vegetables can get enough beta-carotene from the foods they eat and do not need beta-carotene supplements.
For instance, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, 100 grams (~3.5 ounces) of cooked carrots, cooked spinach, or boiled sweet potato provides several thousand micrograms of beta-carotene—significantly more than the daily Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE).
There is no established recommended daily allowance (RDA) for beta-carotene. Instead, the RDA for beta-carotene is included as part of the RDA for vitamin A, which is given as RAE.
The RAE for adult females, according to the National Institutes of Health is 700 micrograms (mcg) or 2,310 IU per day. For adult males, the daily RAE is 900 mcg or 3,000 IU per day.
Moreover, beta-carotene supplements are generally not recommended for certain groups, including:
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- People who’ve had angioplasty
- People who’ve had asbestos exposure
It’s worth noting that most risks from excessive intake of beta-carotene are associated with taking high doses of beta-carotene supplements. Getting beta-carotene from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is considered healthy and safe.
A variety of fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of beta-carotene. Some of these beta-carotene-rich foods include the following:
- Sweet potatoes
- Dark, leafy greens (such as kale and spinach)
- Butternut squash
- Romaine lettuce
- Red bell peppers
Interestingly, beta-carotene is also found in herbs and spices such as the following:
Interesting Facts About Beta-Carotene
Beta-carotene is not known to be toxic for most people. Generally even large doses of beta-carotene supplements do not tend to cause the same symptoms that excessive doses of vitamin A can cause, such as dizziness, nausea, coma, and even death.
But people who take in too much beta-carotene over a sustained period of time, may turn an orange-yellow hue—a condition known as carotenodermia. That’s right, too much beta-carotene, and you might turn a disconcerting shade of orange.
Also, if you think the second part of the name beta-carotene sounds a lot like the orange vegetable to which it owes its hue, you’re totally right! The name beta-carotene actually comes from the Greek “beta” and Latin “carota,” which means “carrot.”
A scientist known as H. Wachenroder came up with the name “carotene” after he crystallized beta-carotene from carrot roots back in 1831.
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