With spring on the way, more fresh fruits and veggies are coming in season and we know eating a colorful rainbow of fruits and veggies is linked with vibrant health. One important family in the fruit and veggie kingdom are carotenoids. Carotenoids are plant pigments responsible for bright red, yellow and orange hues in many fruits and vegetables. Food sources include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and certain types of algae.
Carotenoids are potent antioxidants which help decrease oxidative stress in the body which decreases risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. There are over 600 different carotenoids and each has it own unique chemical composition. Carotenoid intake is linked to lower inflammation, promoting healthy growth in kids, boosting immunity and decreasing risk of skin damage.
These plant nutrients are best absorbed with combined with foods that contain a bit of fat so cook in a small amount of oil or add some nuts or seeds to the dish.
Also availability of carotenoids is improved when cooked such as lightly sautéing or steaming and using cooked tomato products (such as tomato sauce or paste) can help with absorption.
The most carotenoids studied in regards to health are beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene:
Beta-Carotene – coverts to Vitamin A in the body and found in squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, cantaloupe and melon
Lycopene – found in tomato and tomato products as well as watermelon and mango– cooked tomato products tend to make the lycopene easier to absorb and helps decrease risk of heart disease and prostate cancer
Lutein – noted for protecting and improving eye health and found in carrots, green leafy veggies such as turnip, kale and spinach, along with cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli. Egg yolks also contain lutein. Older people who eat high amounts of lutein regularly tend to experience less age related eye issues such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Another protective factor may be that lutein absorbs damaging blue lights that enter the eye.
Nutrient rich veggies are easy to prep raw in salads, stir fries or roasted in the oven.Synthetic carotenoid supplements don’t tend to reap as many benefits as getting these nutrients from food. Aim to include these and other colorful fruits and veggies in your daily menus!