Beta Carotenes: What Are They and What Are Their Benefits?

Beta-carotenes have the ability to change into vitamin A within the body, thus generating positive effects on visual health.
Beta Carotenes: What Are They and What Are Their Benefits?
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 20 March, 2021

Beta carotenes are a series of compounds present in many foods that have a high antioxidant capacity. They are also able to change into vitamin A endogenously, within the body, and so they have a variety of functions.

You can find them, above all, in products of plant origin, and the vast majority are pigments responsible for giving a yellow or orange color. They can also be found in supplements, as their consumption in high doses can produce certain benefits, as we will see later.

Beta carotenes, powerful antioxidants

As we’ve already mentioned, beta-carotenes are compounds that act as pigments, and that belong to the group of carotenoids. They are characteristic of foods such as carrots or papaya, although they can be found in many more.

It’s an essential element to guarantee the synthesis of vitamin A in the human body. Vitamin A is a nutrient that has been shown to help protect health by modulating the immune system.

Beta carotenes stand out, above all, for their role as antioxidants. This means that they are able to give up an electron to molecules that have lost it in order to neutralize its electrical potential.

This generates stability and a beneficial homeostasis for human beings, as there’s evidence that shows that the accumulation of free radicals increases the risk of becoming ill.

Although vitamin A can also be found in products of animal origin, beta-carotenes stand out for being present, above all, in plant foods, with some exceptions (milk from certain animals).

This is one of the reasons why the intake of vegetables is recommended, as they contain substances that cannot be obtained in other ways.

Papaya contains abundant beta carotenes.
A regular consumption of papaya doesn’t only provide beta carotene, but also antioxidant substances.

Benefits of beta carotenes

We’re now going to tell you what the main benefits of beta-carotenes are, just what science says about it.

1. Lower risk of suffering from chronic diseases

The accumulation of free radicals in the tissues is associated with an increased risk of illness. Reactive oxygen species are unstable, which favors inflammatory processes and mutations in genetic material.

As a result, mechanisms that are closely related to cancer or neurodegenerative pathologies can be triggered.

Fortunately, antioxidants are capable of neutralizing the formation of these compounds, which arise from the body’s metabolism and the physiological reactions that make life possible.

According to a study published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, carotenoids can help to prevent the formation of some types of tumors. For this reason, people have speculated that by taking them as supplements, there could well be medium-term benefits, although other experts still have their doubts about this.

2. Efficient functioning of the cardiovascular system

According to research published in 2020, regular consumption of beta-carotene and vitamin A could be beneficial in protecting the cardiovascular system from different alterations.

Specifically, it seems that taking both substances significantly reduces the risk of developing atheroma plaques, a dangerous condition that can affect the heart.

Apparently, beta-carotenes could stimulate the dissolution of fats in the blood vessels, thus preventing their accumulation, which leads to plaques that limit the passage of blood.

As a general rule, the elements that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacity are usually capable of improving the functioning of the cardiovascular system.

In addition to beta carotenes, omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to be effective in preventing the formation of atheroma plaques.

3. Protecting visual and liver health

We have already mentioned that beta carotenes have the ability to change into vitamin A endogenously. When this process takes place, it forms a nutrient that intervenes in the functioning of the visual system.

There is evidence that indicates that this vitamin is capable of preventing macular degeneration, with all the consequences that this entails (loss of vision).

In addition to this, this nutrient is also essential in the prevention of liver diseases.

According to a study published in Nutrition and Health, maintaining adequate levels of vitamin A in the body could reduce the incidence of some types of liver cancer, as well as inflammatory diseases related to this organ. However, experts still need to conduct larger trials in order to confirm this line of thinking.

Finally, we should mention the ability of vitamin A to improve wound healing. The consumption of this nutrient, or beta carotenes, can promote the repair of damaged tissues, both externally and internally.

In this sense, they act synergistically with vitamin C, the latter being capable of significantly increasing endogenous collagen production.

How can you include beta carotenes in your diet?

We have already mentioned that beta-carotenes are found in food of plant origin. To maximize its benefits, we need to include products with yellow, orange, or red colors in the diet.

Fruits such as papaya and even watermelon have a high content of this nutrient, as do vegetables such as carrots.

The important thing in this regard is to ensure that you follow a varied and balanced diet. The more types of vegetables that you consume on a regular basis, the less likely you are to experience an inadequate or inefficient intake of essential or important nutrients.

At the same time, a great option is to choose to prepare, from time to time, smoothies with different types of vegetables together.

This isn’t a perfect solution for the daily diet, as the process of liquidizing breaks the fiber and lessens its benefits, but it can help in certain cases.

Also, the preparation of vegetable creams or purees can be decisive when introducing beta-carotene or antioxidant substances into the diet. Carrot or pumpkin purees are a great option.

These preparations are kept very easily in the refrigerator, so making a good amount one day a week will be enough to enjoy them continuously.

In addition, they have the added advantage of being able to be combined with culinary spices in many recipes. These also contain phytonutrients, which is why they improve the effects of beta-carotenes.

Carrots are an excellent source of beta carotene
In addition to being very nutritious, the pleasant taste of carrots allows them to be added to many healthy recipes.

The importance of limiting the intake of oxidizing compounds

We often talk about the importance of including antioxidants in our diets. However, it’s also essential to limit the intake of elements that act in the opposite way, encouraging the formation of free radicals.

These are usually trans fatty acids and added and simple sugars. Certain additives could also be related to these processes, although there are certain doubts about how they interact.

What we do know is that maintaining a good state of body composition limits the formation of reactive oxygen species, which then has a knock-on positive impact on health.

Also, practicing regular sports helps to create greater efficiency when it comes to controlling endogenous oxidation and reduction reactions, guaranteeing a lower incidence of complex pathologies.

From a dietary point of view, it’s essential to prioritize the consumption of fresh food over that of industrial ultra-processed foods.

The latter are capable of producing inflammation, diabetes, and excess weight, thus damaging the body. It’s no problem if you consume these from time to time, but by no means should they be the basis of a person’s diet.

Beta carotene supplements

Beta-carotene can be included in your diet by means of supplements, the concentration of which is usually enough to satisfy the body’s requirements.

However, it isn’t entirely clear if they achieve positive results in the medium or long term, as, in theory, the amounts we ingest in our daily diets should be sufficient. On the other hand, it isn’t advisable to replace a balanced diet with the consumption of this type of product.

It should be noted that in certain contexts supplements can be harmful. The clearest example is that of elite athletes. Supplementation with antioxidant compounds in athletes could inhibit cellular signaling mechanisms, thus preventing adaptations to exercise.

In this way, athletes could find it difficult to gain muscle strength, or develop the hypertrophy processes that would give them a competitive advantage. In these situations, the best way is to guarantee an adequate supply of antioxidants by means of the diet, without the use of supplements.

Beta carotenes, beneficial substances for the body

As you have seen, beta-carotenes are substances that create benefits for the body when consumed regularly, and in the correct amounts. They can balance inflammatory and oxidative states, thus reducing the risk of getting sick in the medium term.

Whatever the case, we will usually ingest sufficient quantities of the substance on a daily basis, as long as we have a good variety in our diet.

To maximize the presence of beta-carotene in our diets, it can be a useful strategy to resort to vegetable purees.

These have a wide concentration of nutrients derived from the many plants that they’re prepared with. They can also include culinary spices, as these will improve their characteristics.

Finally, we must bear in mind that, as well as consuming sufficient amounts of beta-carotene, it is equally important to limit the intake of other harmful substances. In this sense, we should be limiting the consumption of simple sugars, trans fats, and additives.

In addition to this, we should be promoting healthy lifestyle habits, which include good rest and practicing physical activity on a regular basis. Only in this way can we guarantee an adequate state of health in the medium term.

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