By Jamell Andrews
Carotenoids are natural antioxidants that have been found to improve immune function even lower the risk of cancer and other diseases. Getting these benefits is as simple as adding certain foods to your diet and an easy way to do this is to create a colorful plate.
Spotting foods that are packed with carotenoids is easy because they’re the most richly colored fruits and vegetables in your garden or grocer’s produce department.
Types of Carotenoids
There are more than 600 types of carotenoids, but those that we know the most about include:
- beta carotene
- beta cryptoxanthan
The Benefits of Carotenoids
The following are just some of the known benefits of carotenoids:
- Antioxidant effects. Carotenoids work much like antioxidants do, protecting your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals that damage DNA, leading to cancer and other diseases. Studies have found that carotenoids may prevent or slow the growth of cancer.
- Source of vitamin A. Vitamin A plays an important role in protecting us from infection and disease. It strengthens the immune system and works as a first line of defense, keeping toxins, bacteria, and viruses out. They do this by keeping skin and mouth tissue healthy, as well as our digestive and respiratory systems.
- Immune modulators. Carotenoids are natural immune modulators. They increase the body’s anti-viral activity and help your white blood cells do their job. This leads to a stronger and more efficient immune system, fewer colds, flus and infections, and a lower risk of cancer.
Along with lowering the risk of various infections, cancer, and heart disease, carotenes have also been linked to a lower risk of:
- Eye disease, particularly age-related macular degeneration
- Complications from lung disease
- Exercise-induced asthma
- Pregnancy complications
What to Eat for Maximum Benefits
Most health authorities, including the American Cancer Society, the World Cancer Research Institute, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer, as well as the American Heart Association recommend getting carotenoids and other antioxidants from food rather than supplements.
To get the recommended amount in your diet, aim for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. The richer the color of the fruits and vegetables you eat, the better.
The following are fruits and vegetables that are rich in carotenoids:
- Brussels sprouts
- mustard greens
- summer squash
- turnip greens
- winter squash
Add 2 or 3 servings of these to each of your meals for meals that are as healthy as they are pleasing to the eye!