It is often said that you should eat lots of carrots because they are good for the eyes. But why is that? This effect is due to the beta carotene. It can ensure that visual acuity does not diminish. However, there are numerous other positive effects on the body that can occur from the intake of beta carotene.
In this article we want to go into what beta carotene is and in which foods it can be found. In addition, we will discuss its positive and negative effects, as well as the symptoms of a beta-carotene deficiency. You will also learn whether it can be used to tan the skin and why it should also be given to animals.
the essentials in brief
- Beta carotene forms a precursor of vitamin A, which is why it is also called provitamin A. It is found in various fruits and vegetables. Among the largest suppliers of beta carotene are kale, carrots and sweet potatoes.
- So that the nutrients can be absorbed by the body in the best possible way, foods containing beta carotene should be eaten with some fat. It is also advisable to puree or mix these.
- Various positive effects can occur when taking beta carotene. It can prevent heart disease and cancer, improve brain function and even protect against the sun.
Background: What you should know about beta carotene?
In the following we will explain what beta carotene is, which foods contain it and what you should consider when taking it. We also look at what effects it has on the body and what could happen if there is a lack of beta carotene.
What is beta carotene?
Beta carotene belongs to the group of carotenes, which in turn belong to the class of carotenoids and is the most well-known carotene. The term carotene comes from the Latin word "carota", which means carrot in German. In nature, beta carotene often occurs together with other carotenoids such as alpha and gamma carotene.
Beta carotene is a red-yellowish natural dye found in the fruits, leaves and roots of various plant species. It can be found in various fruits and vegetables. It participates in the photosynthesis of plants and at the same time offers protection against harmful effects of UV radiation.
Carotene also has a protective function in the roots by preventing infections. Carotenes can be built up by plants, but usually not by animals. It is also possible to produce carotenes synthetically.
Beta carotene is also known as provitamin A.
The human body can convert beta carotene into vitamin A. Since beta-carotene is the most important precursor of vitamin A, it is also called provitamin A. Chemically, it is an unsaturated hydrocarbon molecule.
This is mainly broken down in the small intestine and the liver as well as in other organs. This means that the double bond of the molecule is split into two molecules by an oxidative opening. It is also said that vitamin A is formed enzymatically. This process only takes place when the body needs vitamin A. The beta-carotene is lipophilic, which means that it is hardly water-soluble, but fat-soluble. (1)
Which foods contain beta carotene?
Beta carotene can be found in many foods. It is mainly found in yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables such as apricots, carrots and peppers. But green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and peas also contain beta carotene. Furthermore, small amounts of the provitamin can also be found in dairy products, egg yolks and fish.
To give you a better overview of which foods contain how much beta carotene, we have prepared a table for you that shows you the beta carotene content of the respective food.
|vegetable variety||Content per 100g||type of fruit||Content per 100g|
|Kale||8.68 mg||blood grapefruit||1.31 mg|
|carrots||8.48 mg||apricots||0.80 mg|
|sweet potatoes||7.90 mg||sour cherries||0.40 mg|
|Parsely||5.94 mg||tangerines||0.27 mg|
|Lamb's lettuce||3.98 mg||nectarines||0.37 mg|
|Red pepper||3.50 mg||watermelon||0.23 mg|
|pumpkin||3.10 mg||blackberries||0.12 mg|
|green peas||0.63 mg||peaches||0.09 mg|
As you can see, vegetables such as kale, carrots and sweet potatoes in particular have a high beta carotene content. Among the types of fruit, blood grapefruit stands out with a higher beta-carotene value compared to the other types of fruit mentioned. It should be noted, however, that the actual beta-carotene content depends on the season, degree of ripeness and storage conditions.
What should be considered when taking beta carotene?
There are a few things to consider when eating foods that contain beta carotene. For one thing, some fat should always be added when eating such foods, since the beta-carotene is fat-soluble. High-quality fats, such as coconut oil or red palm oil, and cold-pressed oils are particularly suitable. (2)
On the other hand, it is also very important that the food containing beta carotene is chewed very well. It is best to puree them to a pulp or crush them with a blender. Processing these types of fruit and vegetables into juices is also recommended.
The further processing mentioned increases the bioavailability , which means that the nutrients can be made available and absorbed more easily by the body. By following this advice, you can maximize your beta carotene intake without making major dietary changes. (3)
The daily requirement of vitamin A was determined by the German Society for Nutrition e. V. (DGE) in cooperation with nutritional societies from Switzerland and Austria. The reference values for the daily intake of vitamin A were revised in 2020 and are given as retinol activity equivalents (RAE). In the following table we have converted these RAE values (in micrograms) for you and give you the recommended daily beta carotene requirement (in milligrams). (4)
|group of people||RAE in μg||Beta carotene in mg|
|Babies up to 12 months||400-500||4.8 - 6|
|Children up to 13 years||300-600||3.6 - 7.2|
|Children from 13 years and adults||700 - 950||8.4 - 11.4|
When converting retinol activity equivalents (RAE) into beta-carotene, it should be noted that 1 microgram (μg) RAE= 12 micrograms (μg) or 0.012 milligrams (mg) of beta-carotene. You can often cover your daily requirement of vitamin A by eating two carrots, as they contain around 13.6 mg of beta carotene. (5)
What happens with a beta carotene deficiency?
Since beta-carotene cannot be produced by the human organism, it is important to ensure that provitamin A is supplied through food. It can be said that humans usually cover their need for beta carotene quickly during the course of the day.
For example, if the immune system is weak, the body has a higher need for beta carotene. This can be covered by eating kale. This is very rich in beta carotene. (Image Source: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels)
However, there is an increased need for sick people, pregnant women , breastfeeding mothers and competitive athletes. Therefore, these people must be careful to eat more foods that contain beta carotene in order not to have a deficiency. However, some groups of people, such as children, young women or older people, can also sometimes have a provitamin A deficiency.
A lack of beta carotene can have many causes. On the one hand, the reason can be a weakened immune system or diseases such as cancer and diabetes. But taking medication and prolonged stress can also increase the daily requirement.
If there is a lack of beta carotene, various symptoms can occur, which we would like to show you below.
- Vision Problems: The beta carotene is needed for the production of vitamin A, which is essential for vision. A deficiency can lead to a deterioration in visual acuity, with night-time visual acuity deteriorating first. Dryness in the eyes can also occur.
- sick more often: It may be that you suffer from infections that last longer. This could be because the immune system has not been sufficiently strengthened by beta carotene. This can make you more susceptible to illness.
- Changes in the body: Not getting enough beta carotene can lead to brittle nails and dry skin. Split ends on the hair or even hair loss are also possible consequences.
Since you can cover your beta carotene needs quite quickly in everyday life, you should do this in order to avoid the deficiency symptoms mentioned. Make sure you get enough provitamin A if you have a weakened immune system.
What effect can beta carotene have on the body?
Beta carotene, also known as provitamin A, can have various positive effects on human health. In the following we present some effects of beta carotene.
prevention of heart disease
Beta carotene has an antioxidant effect on the body, thanks to which it protects against free radicals. Eating foods high in beta carotene can help prevent high cholesterol, which can often cause atherosclerosis.
It does this by reducing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and thus stopping the narrowing of the arteries. It is also possible that heart disease can be prevented, which can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. (6)
prevention of cancer diseases
After ingesting foods containing beta carotene, the stomach is the first to benefit from vitamin A. This is needed to form the gastric mucosa, which protects the stomach walls from gastric juices. As a result, the risk of developing gastric cancer can be reduced. (7)
In addition, the body can also be protected against other types of cancer such as colon cancer, liver cancer, esophageal cancer and pancreatic cancer. It is fair to say that people who are low in antioxidants may be at greater risk of cancer.
improvement in brain function
The antioxidant beta carotene can also have effects on the brain. A positive effect on brain function can be noted, as provitamin A improves communication between cells in the brain. The antioxidant effect of beta-carotene can also increase the lifespan of brain cells.
sun protection of the skin
If many carotenoids are absorbed over a long period of time, then this is also stored in the skin. This can lead to a slight orange-brown discoloration of the skin, known as carotenoderma. This allows a slight UV protection to be achieved. However, more than 30 milligrams of carotenoids should be consumed daily over a period of several weeks.
This intake can double or triple the body's sun protection. This means that it takes a little longer before sunburn appears. However, this method should not be used as the only sun protection, as it only corresponds to a sun protection factor of two to three and therefore the skin cannot be adequately protected from UV rays. (8th)
What side effects can beta carotene cause?
One side effect that can occur due to the ingestion of beta carotene from food is discoloration of the skin. Because if many foods are consumed that contain provitamin A, the skin can take on a yellowish, orange to brownish color.
The soles of the feet and the palms of the hands are areas of skin that are particularly affected by this discoloration. The reason for this is that beta carotene is a natural coloring agent, which is also responsible for the orange color of carrots, for example. (9)
Smokers should avoid taking beta carotene supplements. These can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. (Image Source: Photographing / Pexels)
Another side effect can occur in smokers if they also take provitamin A dietary supplements. Because if smokers take in a high amount of beta carotene in the form of supplements, this can be harmful to their health. The isolated beta-carotene can increase the risk of lung cancer and promote cardiovascular disease in cigarette smokers. (10)
In what other forms can beta carotene be taken?
The beta carotene not only has to be taken in solid form, but it can also be ingested through drinks. There are many ways to make your own healthy juices from foods that contain provitamin A. This is particularly beneficial because mixing allows the nutrients to be more easily absorbed by the body.
But the food trade also offers numerous juices such as ACE drinks and carrot juices that are rich in beta carotene. It is also used in the pharmaceutical industry in preparations for vitamin substitution. Beta carotene can also be taken in supplement form. The supplement is offered in different types. On the one hand, it can be taken in capsule form, as dragees or as tablets.
Can Beta Carotene Intake Avoid Sun Allergy?
A sun allergy is understood to mean various diseases through which the body cannot adequately protect itself from UV radiation. The reason for this is that the skin's natural protective mechanism fails, since the radicals react with proteins, for example, and destroy them in the process. The consequences can be reddening of the skin, blisters, itching and blisters on the skin.
If you suffer from a sun allergy, it is advisable to take larger amounts of beta carotene. As a precaution, you should take this for two to three months before you expose yourself to the sun for a longer period of time on a holiday, for example. For this purpose, preparations can be purchased in the pharmacy, with which you should take about 25 milligrams of provitamin A daily.
Since beta carotene is an antioxidant, it prevents the destruction of cells by free radicals. In addition, the intake of beta-carotene should also be able to bring about an improvement in sun allergy. (11)
Can beta carotene be used for skin tanning?
As described above, a high intake of beta-carotene over a long period of time can result in discoloration of the skin. This takes on a yellowish-orange to brownish hue. The cosmetics industry also knows about the coloring effect of provitamin A and offers tanning capsules for sale. It contains high levels of beta carotene. Other carotenoids are often added to tan the skin. (9)
A tanning effect can be achieved by increasing the intake of beta carotene. However, this is more yellowish to orange and rather less brownish.
Tanning creams containing carotenoids are also available. The coloring of the skin takes place when the beta-carotene is placed on the outer skin layer as a coloring agent. It remains to be noted that a tan from such a cream will not last. Furthermore, in some cases, a preparation containing carotenoids is prescribed by the dermatologist.
This happens when the patient suffers from Vitiligo. This disease is known in German as white spot disease and manifests itself in the fact that spots appear on the skin that are completely free of pigments. By taking in additional carotenoids, a slight coloring of these areas can be achieved so that the contrast with the rest of the skin is not as great. However, this cannot completely even out the color of the white spots. (12)
Why is beta carotene given to animals?
The nutrients in beta carotene don't just have positive effects on humans. Beta carotene can also be added to the diet of animals. For example, it is used for feeding in cattle breeding operations. It promotes cattle fertility and is also beneficial during pregnancy. It is also important for young calves to ensure an adequate supply of vitamin A. By administering beta-carotene to the cow, the calf can absorb it with the milk after it is born. (13)
Provitamin A also has positive effects on animals. For example, it can increase the fertility of cows. (Image Source: H. Hach / Pixabay)
Furthermore, beta carotene preparations are also administered to horses. This should improve the fertility of broodmares and also increase the breeding performance of stallions. With an additional addition of the preparation, the lack of beta-carotene, which often occurs in winter, should be counteracted. This avoids delayed ovulation and compensates for the increased need for beta carotene during pregnancy.
In conclusion, beta carotene has many beneficial properties on human physical health. It is very easy to cover the recommended requirement for provitamin A in everyday life, as it is contained in many different types of fruit and vegetables. You should always make sure you take in enough of it.
What is good for humans is also good for animals. That is why beta carotene is also used in cattle and horse breeding. It can also increase protection from UV rays in humans, but it should never be used as the sole sunscreen. However, side effects can occur when smokers take high levels of beta-carotene in the form of dietary supplements.
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