WHAT IS BETA CAROTENE?
Beta carotene is a bright orange carotenoid and phytonutrient (health boosting, plant based chemical compounds which are not classed as essential nutrients). It can be found in various vegetables and is used by your body to create vitamin A. In this article I will be taking a deeper look at beta carotene and how it affects the human body.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF BETA CAROTENE?
Beta carotene was discovered and isolated by the German chemist Heinrich Wilhelm Ferdinand Wackenroder in 1831. However, the relationship between beta carotene and vitamin A was not realised until many years later in 1919.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF BETA CAROTENE?
Beta carotene is converted into vitamin A as soon as it enters the body so its health benefits are very similar. Like vitamin A, beta carotene’s main role is to support healthy vision and night vision. It also has a number of further benefits in the human body which include:
– Acting as an antioxidant (a substance that protects the body’s cells from dangerous free radicals).
– Assisting in normal growth (particularly proper development of the bones and teeth).
– Assisting in normal reproduction (vitamin A is thought to be vital in the production of sperm and for healthy fetal growth).
– Helping your eyes, skin and mucus lining to stay moist.
– Strengthening the immune system.
In addition to the above benefits, early studies suggest that beta carotene may be able to protect against cancer and heart disease. However, further studies are needed before these cancer fighting properties can be confirmed.
HOW MUCH BETA CAROTENE DO YOU NEED?
Since vitamin A can also be sourced from animal products (in the form of retinol), beta carotene is not classed as an essential nutrient. Therefore, no recommended daily allowance (RDA) has been established. However, some sources suggest consuming between 15 milligram (mg) and 50mg of this nutrient each day to ensure that your body gets enough beta carotene and produces enough vitamin A.
WHICH FOODS CONTAIN BETA CAROTENE?
Beta carotene can be sourced from a wide range of vegetables. As a general rule, intense orange vegetables are the best food sources of this nutrient with carrots, pumpkins and sweet potatoes all containing extremely high levels. The table below lists some of the best beta carotene food sources:
|FOOD||MILLIGRAMS (MG) OF BETA CAROTENE PER 100 GRAMS (G)
|Canned Carrot Juice||9.3|
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CONSUMING TOO MUCH BETA CAROTENE?
Unlike vitamin A, consuming high levels of beta carotene is not toxic. However, ingesting large amounts of this natural nutrient can lead to a condition called carotenemia where your skin becomes orange. Consuming lots of beta carotene supplements can also increase the risk of lung cancer and prostate cancer amongst smokers.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF FAILING TO CONSUME ENOUGH BETA CAROTENE?
Beta carotene is not classed as an essential nutrient so no deficiency symptoms have been established. However, failing to consume enough beta carotene can lead to a vitamin A deficiency if your diet is lacking in retinol. If you become deficient in vitamin A this can then lead to:
– Dry skin.
– Increased risk of infection.
– Vision problems.
Long term beta carotene deficiency is also believed to contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. However, no concrete evidence has been provided to confirm this assumption.
BETA CAROTENE SUMMARY
Although beta carotene is not essential to human health it is still very important that you include this nutrient as part of your diet. Your body needs it to create vitamin A, keep your vision health and more. So make sure you are filling up on orange vegetables and giving your body a healthy dose of beta carotene.