I've always said that we should eat food with colour and Carotenoid-Rich Food is a perfect choice. Not only are the vivid colours of fruit and vegetables good for your health but they also brighten up your plate which is good on the eyes and for the brain. For a long time, nature's carotenoid-rich foods such as an emerald bed of lettuce, shiny scarlet tomato wedges or bright orange slivers of carrots can be used to bring a colourful warmth to your heart and soul.
Not only can carotenoids help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer but they can also help lower your cholesterol. And what better reason can there be to serve up a bountiful plate of delicious eye-catching vegetables or a bowl of mouth-watering fruits. The pigments that give fruit and vegetables their cheery hues, called carotenoids, are more than just pretty colours. They could very much save your life.
It's been well-documented that if you eat more carotenoid-rich foods such as red, orange and yellow vegetables like pumpkin, sweet red peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and carrots, you'll significantly lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. The same can be said for dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale.
The chlorophyll these vegetables contain masks the lighter carotenoid hues. And the same can be said for carotenoid-rich fruit such as cantaloupe, oranges, peaches, apricots, watermelon and other brightly coloured fruits. You can never get enough carotenoid-rich foods in your daily diet.
Now you might ask how can a simple food colouring be so good for you? The reason, as is often true with nutrition, simply comes down to chemistry. How many of you are aware that your body is constantly under attack by free radicals? Do you even know what free radicals are? They are oxygen molecules that have lost an electron and because of this, they whizz through your body trying to steal replacement electrons from your healthy cells.
As a result, this causes internal damage to tissue throughout your body and possibly causing heart disease, cancer and many other life-threatening conditions. What the carotenoids in fruit and vegetables do is neutralize free radicals by offering up their electrons. This effectively stops the destructive process and in doing so, helps prevent your cells from being damaged. So far, I hope this is all making sense. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure all the nitty-gritty of carotenoids, just keep eating plenty of fruit and veggies daily and you'll be safe from harm.
Carotenoids certainly seem to be important as far as disease prevention is concerned and the best way to get them is by eating five to eight servings of fruit and vegetables every day. That way you're sure to get a wide variety of these compounds that nature intended.
Although there are more than 500 carotenoids, only 50 to 60 of them are found in common foods. So far, the key carotenoids that have been identified are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene (the most common) and cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin. It seems that scientists are also continually investigating other carotenoids.
I'm sure we've all heard the term - Hardening of the arteries. I would say nutritionists rather than doctors are constantly telling us that we should avoid high-fat foods in our fight to control our cholesterol levels. Well, you can make progress in winning this war by eating carotenoid-rich foods such as those found in fruits and vegetable like sweet potatoes, spinach and cantaloupe every day.
Incidentally, did you know that you can eat all these fruits and vegetables in their natural raw state? Raw orange sweet potato, as well as baby spinach and sweet melon, are also great as a salad.
Carotenoids contribute to heart health by helping prevent the dangerous low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from oxidizing - the process that causes it to stick to artery walls. Studies have shown that if you have high levels of carotenoids in your system you'll have significantly lower risks of heart disease than if you don't.
Something I found very interesting while researching carotenoids was that smokers are less likely to have a heart attack if they have high blood levels of the four most important carotenoids. And they are beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin. Now this research is certainly not a licence for you to simply go out and smoke up a storm. Smoking in any man's language is not a good sign but so also, is eating unhealthy food and drinking too much alcohol.
The same process by which carotenoids protect them against heart disease also seems to protect against cancer. These compounds found in carotenoids neutralizes free radicals and in doing so, prevent damage to DNA, the genetic material that controls how your cells behave.
It has been shown that high doses of beta-carotene, about 30 milligrams, can shrink precancerous lesions in the mouth and some cases, by almost 50 per cent. These findings are so important because they suggest that there is a chance you can reverse the onset of cancer simply by changing your food choices and lifestyle in all areas. A positive mindset is also prerequisite to overcoming many of the diseases we face daily.
Another carotenoid that seems to be a crusader against cancer is lycopene - the pigment that gives tomatoes their rosy glow and that found in watermelon, guavas and pink grapefruit. It was found that if men ate 10 or more servings per week of tomato-based food they'd have a 45 per cent decrease in their risk of prostate cancer. Men who ate only four to seven servings a week - less than one a day still came out ahead with a 20 per cent risk reduction. It wasn't only whole tomatoes that provided the benefits either. Pizza, tomato sauce and other tomato-based foods were also protective.
Although evidence clearly shows that should you get the most carotenoids in your diet, your chances of getting cancer will be greatly reduced. The case of taking supplements isn't quite so clear. For example, when researchers tested the effectiveness of beta-carotene supplements, they found that this compound wasn't effective in preventing cancer. Some studies have shown that taking beta-carotene supplements may even accelerate the disease. It just goes to show that we can't supplement supplements for real carotenoid-rich foods now, can we?
There is very clear evidence that we know a lot less than we thought we did when it comes down to carotenoids and just what benefits they have on our health. Beta-carotene supplements may cause problems because high doses interfere with the body's absorption of other protective carotenoids. The solution, of course, is to take nature's advice by eating the right kind of foods.
For now, the best strategy for preventing cancer is to get your carotenoids from fruit and vegetables rather than supplements. I hope that with more research we'll be able to pinpoint which compounds are most beneficial and which fruits and vegetables we should emphasize in our diets. Doesn't that make much better sense?
If we eat spinach, collard greens and other dark green leafy vegetables at least five or six times a week we'll have about 40 per cent lower risk for macular degeneration than if we eat them less than say, once a month. Think about how consuming more carotenoid-rich food every day can do for your health. The carotenoids that seem to be responsible, zeaxanthin and lutein, are thought to block the effects of free radicals in the outer retina, preventing them from damaging healthy eye tissue.
All rich yellow, orange and red fruit and vegetables contain generous amounts of carotenoids and so do deep green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach. To get the most out of these healing compounds and into your diet, see below for some of the best carotenoid-rich food sources.
Please take note that the information on this site is designed for educational purposes and is intended solely for general readership. The contents herein are not intended to offer any personal medical advice or to diagnose any health issues you may have. This information is also by no means a substitute for medical care by a licensed healthcare provider. For that, you'd need to consult your medical doctor or a health care practitioner for any advice should you require prescription medication.