Uncovering carotenoids: Types, essential facts, and remarkable health benefits

Uncovering carotenoids: Types, essential facts, and remarkable health benefits

Remember walking through an aisle of fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables and being captivated by their vibrant, lively colors? Those colors you see, ranging from the bright yellow of a ripe banana to the deep green of spinach, can be attributed to a group of pigments found in plants called carotenoids. Not just providers of appealing colors, carotenoids also offer tremendous health benefits to us humans. Let’s dive into a closer look at carotenoids, their types, and the multitude of benefits they offer. 

Carotenoids, scientifically speaking, are a family of more than 700 compounds found naturally in various fruits, vegetables, and certain animal products. They are segregated into two main categories: Carotenes (which consist of pure hydrocarbon compounds) and Xanthophylls (which contain oxygen). Now, you might be wondering: "What's all the fuss about carotenoids?" Well, they offer nutritional and health benefits that are too good to ignore.

"'Carotenoids are the body's overall shield. They are powerful antioxidants that can reduce inflammation and eliminate harmful free radicals. Moreover their synergistic effect on boosting immunity and protecting the eyes is noteworthy", says renowned nutritionist Dr. Jane Foster.

Gytree's nutritionist agrees. "When combined with plant based proteins, they bolster the energy and benefits of protein by fortifying it," says Chahat Vasdev.

Here's a simple list of the most common carotenoids and their prime sources in your diet:

Beta-Carotene: Carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach.

Lycopene: Tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit.

Lutein: Kale, spinach, and broccoli.

Zeaxanthin: Bell peppers, corn, and oranges.

Astaxanthin: Salmon, shrimp, and certain algae.

What do Carotenoids do for your body?

Carotenoids are essentially your body's superheroes, swooping in to fight off the villainous free radicals. These harmful molecules can cause havoc if they aren't tackled early, leading to a predicament known as "oxidative stress". This condition stuffs your body with all kinds of ailments and diseases.

Antioxidants protect your cells from the damage that oxidation causes,” dietitian Devon Peart explains. “They help reduce your risk of disease, including cancer and heart disease.

Carotenoids meet protein to deliver 

When carotenoids are combined with protein, they form complex structures known as protein-bound carotenoids. These complexes are typically found in nature and are crucial for the proper functioning of various biological processes.

Protein-bound carotenoids are more stable than free carotenoids. The protein matrix protects the carotenoid from degradation, thus preserving its antioxidant properties. This is particularly important as carotenoids are highly susceptible to degradation by heat, light, and oxygen.

Understanding more about carotenoids should open up new avenues to reconsider your daily diet and lifestyle choices. As we move ahead in this article, we will delve deeper into the different types of carotenoids and the specific benefits they provide. 

"The combination of carotenoids with protein can enhance the bioavailability of these compounds. Bioavailability refers to the proportion of a nutrient that is absorbed and utilized by the body. The protein matrix can facilitate the absorption of carotenoids in the digestive tract, thereby increasing their bioavailability," say nutritionists.

"There is evidence that they have beneficial effects on eye health, cognitive function and cardiovascular health, and may help reduce the risk of some types of cancer," says research according to Science Direct, in an article authored by M. Eggersdorfer and A. Wyss.

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