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Carotenoids: Antioxidants that Promote Longevity

Carotenoids are yellow, orange, and red pigments present in fruits and vegetables. There are more than 600 carotenoids; the most commonly consumed and well-studied carotenoids include beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.1

Some carotenoids are converted to vitamin A in the body — beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin for example; these carotenoids are are important for proper immune function. Carotenoids give the skin a healthy glow and defend the body’s tissues against oxidative damage, helping to prevent chronic diseases and premature aging.1,2

Increase carotenoid absorption in your diet with a nut and seed dressing on your salad.

Lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes, grapefruit, and papaya, is concentrated primarily in the prostate, where it has potent anti-cancer effects. Lycopene-rich foods also protect the skin against ultraviolet radiation from the sun. In one study, after twelve weeks of tomato supplementation by healthy women, reddening of the skin, mitochondrial DNA damage, and markers of skin aging due to UV exposure were reduced.3 Read more.

Lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in leafy greens like kale and collards, are the only known carotenoids located in the human retina. Light must pass through lutein and zeaxanthin before being transmitted to the cells that send visual information to the brain. These carotenoids filter some of the blue light that enters the retina, and this function protects the eye from damage and improves several aspects of visual performance.4 Read more.

Alpha-carotene is an excellent marker of high-nutrient vegetable intake, since dark green and orange colored vegetables are the richest sources of alpha carotene. In a recent study, individuals with the highest blood levels of alpha-carotene had a 39% decrease in risk of death compared to those with the lowest serum alpha-carotene.5 Read more.

Get your carotenoids from colorful vegetables and fruits. Carotenoid supplements have consistently failed to produce beneficial effects in clinical trials. In fact, supplemental carotenoids are likely to be harmful. For example, high serum ß-carotene has been associated with decreased lung cancer risk, but ß-carotene supplements may actually increase the risk of lung cancer, especially in smokers.6

In addition to their own beneficial effects, carotenoids like alpha-carotene, lycopene, and lutein in the blood are markers indicating the intake of thousands of additional phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables that work synergistically to keep the body healthy. Keep in mind that carotenoid absorption during a meal requires the presence of fat — one of the reasons to use nut and seed-based dressings on salads and raw vegetables.7,8

1. Higdon J: Carotenoids. In An Evidence-Based Approach to Dietary Phytochemicals. 2006: 47-61
2. Krinsky NI, Johnson EJ. Carotenoid actions and their relation to health and disease. Mol Aspects Med 2005;26:459-516.
3. Rizwan M, Rodriguez-Blanco I, Harbottle A, et al. Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photodamage in humans in vivo. Br J Dermatol 2010.
4. Stringham JM, Bovier ER, Wong JC, et al. The influence of dietary lutein and zeaxanthin on visual performance. J Food Sci 2010;75:R24-29.
5. Li C, Ford ES, Zhao G, et al. Serum {alpha}-Carotene Concentrations and Risk of Death Among US Adults: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med 2010. 
6. Druesne-Pecollo N, Latino-Martel P, Norat T, et al. Beta-carotene supplementation and cancer risk: a systematic review and metaanalysis of randomized controlled trials. Int J Cancer 2010;127:172-184.
7. Brown MJ, Ferruzzi MG, Nguyen ML, et al. Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;80:396-403.
8. Goltz SR, Campbell WW, Chitchumroonchokchai C, et al. Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans. Molecular nutrition & food research 2012;56:866-877.

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