What are Carotenoids?
Carotenoids are the yellow, orange and red pigments that plants create they are:
Lutein and zeaxanthin.
For our bodies to absorb these carotenoids there needs to be fat present in the same meal (one in the eye for the fat free police!).Why do they matter to me?
Carotenoids and vitamin A
- Carotenoids play a role in the delivery of necessary fat around the body.
- Studies have shown that high levels of carotenoids in the blood reduce the chance of heart disease caused by thickening of the arteries.
- In plants these carotenoids have a powerful antioxidant (a substance that prevents or reduces damage to the plant) role during photosynthesis however their role in humans appears to be more complicated.
- Lab tests have shown that carotenoids facilitate communication between our cells which is important to maintain the health of our cells, this type of communication is often lost in cancer cells.
Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin can be converted by the body to vitamin A.
If your body is short on vitamin A your liver will convert alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin to vitamin A.Lycopene and lutein and zeaxanthin
Carotenoids absorb light; in particular lutein and zeaxanthin efficiently absorb blue light which may protect our eyes from damage particularly macular degeneration. Whilst still being far from clear cut some research has shown that these two contribute to a lower incidence of macular degeneration (failing eyesight).
Lutein and zeaxanthin have been observed to prevent or slow the development of cataracts in people with a diet rich in these carotenoids.
Studies have shown that people with a higher intake of carotenoids in particular lycopene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin, have a significant reduction in the risk of lung cancer.
Studies have shown that higher intakes of Lycopene (mostly found in tomatoes and tomato products) is associated with a greatly reduced risk of prostate cancer.Government recommendations
Recommendations by the UK Government the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and American Heart Association to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables daily are aimed, in part, at increasing intakes of carotenoids.
Chopping, blending and cooking breaks down the properties of plants, increasing our absorption of carotenoids. The potency of lycopene from tomatoes is also substantially improved by heating tomatoes in oil.