The carotenes are a group of phytonutrients (plant based chemical compounds that have numerous health benefits in the human body but are not classed as essential nutrients) that are mainly found in orange and red fruits and vegetables such as carrots, grapefruits and tomatoes.
Although they are not believed to be essential for human survival, they are all potent antioxidants that can keep your body’s cells safe from free radicals (harmful by-products that get released into your body’s cells during oxygen related reactions). Additionally, many of the carotenes are converted into vitamin A inside the human body which means they have very similar benefits to this vitamin.
In this article I will be taking a deeper look at 3 of the main carotenes and providing a full overview of their health benefits:
History:- Beta carotene was discovered and isolated in 1831 by the German chemist Heinrich Wilhelm Ferdinand.
Health Benefits:- Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant that is converted into vitamin A inside the human body and so many of its health benefits are similar. Its main role is to promote good vision and night vision. It also supports healthy growth (particularly when it comes to the bones and teeth), supports healthy reproduction, strengthens your immune system and keeps your eyes, skin and mucus moist. Provisional studies suggest that beta carotene may also prevent cancer and heart disease but further studies are needed before this can be confirmed.
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA):- There is currently no official RDA for beta carotene as your body can create vitamin A from other substances such as retinol. However, some sources recommend consuming between 15 milligrams (mg) and 50mg of beta carotene each day.
Food Sources:- Orange coloured fruits and vegetables are often the best source of beta carotene with canned carrot juice (9.3 mg per 100 grams (g)), canned pumpkin (6.9mg per 100g), carrots (8.3mg per 100g) and sweet potato (11.5mg per 100g) all containing high levels of this carotene.
Overdose Symptoms:- Consuming high levels of beta carotene is not toxic but it can lead to carotenemia (a condition where your skin changes to an orange colour). Eating lots of beta carotene supplements can also increase the risk of contracting lung cancer and prostate cancer in people who smoke.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Beta carotene is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption. However, if your diet is lacking in retinol it can contribute to a vitamin A deficiency which then leads to dry skin, an increased risk of infection and problems with your vision. It has also been suggested that long term beta carotene deficiency may contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. However, no suitable evidence has been provided to confirm these suggestions.
History:- Lycopene was discovered and isolated in 1910. Its chemical structure was determined in 1931.
Health Benefits:- Lycopene is a potent antioxidant that has a long list of potential health benefits. Early studies indicate it may also be an antibacterial (a substance that inhibits the growth of bacteria), antifungal (a substance that treats fungal infections), antimutagenic (a substance that inhibits genetic mutations) and antitoxic (a substance that protects your body against harmful toxins). It may also prevent arteriosclerosis (the hardening and loss of elasticity within the artery walls), prevent cancer, prevent heart disease and treat diabetes. However, additional research is required before these potential lycopene benefits can be confirmed.
RDA:- There is currently no official recommended daily allowance (RDA) for lycopene but some sources suggest consuming 6.5mg of this carotene each day for optimal health.
Food Sources:- Lycopene is mainly found in red fruits and vegetables with guavas (5.2mg per 100g), sun dried tomatoes (42.9mg per 100g) and water melons (4.5mg per 100g) all being excellent sources of this carotene.
Overdose Symptoms:- Eating large amounts of lycopene is not harmful but it can cause lycopenodermia (a condition where your skin changes to an orange/yellow colour).
Deficiency Symptoms:- Lycopene is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption. Some people have suggested that a long term lycopene deficiency can increase your risk of contracting cancer and heart disease. However, there is no reliable evidence available to validate this suggestion.
History:- There is currently no information available on the discovery of phytofluene.
Health Benefits:- Phytofluene is a powerful antioxidant. It may also act as an anti-inflammatory (a substance that reduces unnecessary inflammation) and protect the skin cells from ultraviolet (UV) damage (invisible rays of energy from the sun that can harm your skin cells and cause skin cancer) but further evidence is needed before this can be confirmed.
RDA:- There is currently no official RDA for phytofluene.
Food Sources:- Phytofluene can be found in orange and red fruits and vegetables with oranges, sweet potatoes and tomatoes being some of the best sources.
Overdose Symptoms:- There are no reported overdose symptoms associated with phytofluene consumption.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Phytofluene is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.
There is still a lot to learn about the carotenes and how they benefit the human body. However, you should definitely be including them as part of your diet. The carotenes all offer significant antioxidant protection to your body’s cells whilst beta carotene is also a great way to give your body the fuel it needs to create vitamin A. So if your current diet is lacking in carotenes add some colour and make sure your next shopping basket is full of orange and red fruits and vegetables.