Carotenoids are abundant in certain foods; there are many ways to include carotenoids in your diet and doing so is important. Carotenoids consist of dark colored pigments; beta-carotene is an example that most people are familiar with. Typically, the darker the pigment in the food, the more carotenoids they contain. Carotenoids are commonly found in orange-colored fruits and vegetables. Some carotenoids act as antioxidants, which help prevent damage to the cells in our bodies.
Consuming adequate amounts of Vitamin A helps maintain healthy skin, teeth, skeletal tissue and mucous membranes, while vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness, poor growth, increased infections and dry scaly skin. There are hundreds of carotenoids and some (such as beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin) can be converted into Vitamin A in our bodies.
Recommended daily amounts of vitamin A for adults range from 700 – 900 micrograms per day (higher for breastfeeding women). While many animal food products contain or are fortified with vitamin A, carotenoids can help increase vitamin A in our bodies, typically without adding extra fat, calories or cholesterol. Below are some foods that contain significant amounts of carotenoids.
1. Sweet Potatoes
Extremely high amounts of carotenoids are found in sweet potatoes; therefore, they are an excellent way to add vitamin A to your diet. Many deep orange colored fruits and vegetables are rich in carotenoids (especially beta-carotene) and sweet potatoes are no exception. Try eating sweet potatoes with their skins to add extra fiber to your diet.
Carrots are also extremely high in carotenoids and therefore vitamin A. Eat carrots raw to maintain the most nutrients, however, if you’re planning to cook them, try cooking carrots in as little water as possible to help preserve the most nutrients.
3. Carrot and Tomato Juices
Carrot juice is extremely high in carotenoids, and tomato and V8 juices are high as well. For many people, drinking their vegetables is easier or tastes better than eating them, however, eating the whole vegetable (including the skin) will help you add fiber and other nutrients to your diet.
Commonly consumed in pumpkin pies, pumpkin is an excellent source of carotenoids. Try adding pumpkin to smoothies for a healthier way to include pumpkin (and carotenoids) in your diet.
5. Cantaloupe and Apricots
Cantaloupe and Apricots are common sources of carotenoids as well. Cantaloupe is also high in vitamin C; both cantaloupe and apricots are low in fat and calories and are cholesterol-free.
Spinach (and other leafy green vegetables) is another great way to include carotenoids in your diet. Spinach also contains a significant amount of iron and fiber. Try adding spinach leaves to your salad or mixing cooked spinach with casseroles or dips.
Another source of carotenoids in your diet comes from broccoli. Again when cooking broccoli, try to steam it or cook it in as little water as possible to preserve the most nutrients. Broccoli also contains vitamin C and fiber, and it is a versatile vegetable that can be prepared in many dishes.