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Beta Carotene - A Powerful Ally in our Fight Against Free Radicals
January 16, 2013

Beta Carotene - A Powerful Ally in our Fight Against Free Radicals
Issue #004

Welcome to the 4rd issue of Discover The Power of Healing Foods! newsletter. You can read the entire issue on line by clicking here.

In our previous issue we considered how free radicals and antioxidants are engaged in an ongoing fight. If you've missed that issue catch up here.

Free radicals are responsible for damaging our cells and weakening them to the point that they can no longer fight disease. Free radical damaged is believed to play a role in nearly every chronic illness, including cancer and heart disease and to be the driving force behind premature aging.

Antioxidants are the powerful arsenal at our disposal that can neutralize that damage and prevent any harm.

As free radicals are many and powerful, so must be our weapons to fight them.

In our last issue we considered four main antioxidants and where we can find them - vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and zinc. This time we'll consider the carotenoids and, of course, where we can find them.

In this issue we will discuss:

Phytochemicals: The Body's Arsenal

Phytochemicals (or phytonutrients) are naturally occurring compounds in plants and are a vast, relatively untapped source of natural healing.

These powerful plant compounds are potent agents formed by nature to work with the body to fight disease, rather than working against it, as drugs often do.

Phytochemicals are powerful ammunition in the war against cancer, aging, and most health disorders.

What are Carotenoids?

Carotenoids are the most common phytochemicals and fat-soluble compounds, belonging to a potent family of antioxidants numbering more than 600, 30 to 50 of which seem to have vitamin A activity.

They are responsible for the red, orange, green and yellow pigments found in fruits and vegetables.

The main carotenoids, or I should say, the better known ones, are beta carotene, lutein and lycopene (we'll consider the last two next time).

Beta Carotene

The liver uses the carotenoid beta carotene to manufacture vitamin A, so it's sometimes referred to as preformed vitamin A or provitamin A.

Researchers have described beta carotene as the most active of the carotenoids because of its higher provitamin A activity, but several other carotenes exert greater antioxidant effects even if they don't get transformed into vitamin A in the body.

This shows that you should never limit yourself to just one type of food because of its presumed antioxidant activity at the exclusion of all the others.

Beneficial Effects of Beta Carotene as Antioxidant

Beta carotene decrease the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration and reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes. It protect against cancer by reducing oxidative and other damage to DNA.

After the body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A as needed, any leftover beta-carotene then acts as an antioxidant, breaking free radical chain reactions and preventing the oxidation of cholesterol.

It reduces the oxidation of DNA and disables reactive oxygen species molecules generated by exposure to sunlight and air pollution, preventing damage to eyes, lungs and skin.

Some people believe in taking high doses of beta carotene supplements (50,000 IU or more a day), but researchers have found that this may interfere with the normal control of cell division. I's best to take a carotenoid complex containing a variety of carotenoids.

Better still, eat a variety of brightly coloured foods to get the full benefit of these wonderful compounds.

Food Sources of Beta Carotene

Beta-carotene is the predominant form in most green leaves and, in general the greater the intensity of the green colour the greater the concentration of beta-carotene.

Orange coloured fruits and vegetables typically have higher concentrations of provitamin A carotenoids, again directly related to the intensity of the colour.

Carotenoids are also found in various animal foods, such as salmon and other fish, egg yolk, shellfish, milk and poultry.

Orange Fruits and Vegetables

How many fruits and vegetables can you name that are a bright orange?

Once you thought about it, have a look at the following list and see how many you could name:

  • apricots
  • bell peppers
  • cantaloupe
  • carrots
  • mangoes
  • nectarines
  • oranges
  • papaya
  • peaches
  • persimmon
  • pumpkin
  • squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • tangerines
  • yams

Green Fruits and Vegetables

Then, let's not forget the green fruits and vegetables: How many can you name, better still, how many do you actually eat on a regular basis?

Here is a list:

  • apples
  • asparagus
  • avocado
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • chard
  • cucumber
  • celery
  • courgettes (zucchini)
  • green beans
  • kale
  • kiwi
  • lettuce
  • okra
  • peas
  • peppers
  • rocket salad
  • spinach
  • sprouting broccoli
  • watercress
So how are you doing so far? How many of these foods do you eat regularly?

If you're taking away just one thing from his newsletter, let it be this: Every day aim to eat 1 or 2 servings of each of the two groups mentioned above. Try different ones, get creative with recipes, but also don't forget that you can eat most of them raw and juice them too.

Raw foods are packed with nutrients whereas cooking tends to destroy them. So to get the most out of the antioxidant potential of fruits and vegetables, try to eat as many as you can in their unadulterated state and you will soon feel the difference in how you feel.

One serving is equivalent to:

  • One medium-sized fruit, such an apple, pear or orange.
  • 1/2 cup raw, cooked, frozen or canned fruit or vegetables.
  • 1 cup raw, leafy greens, such as spinach, kale or lettuce.
  • 3/4 cup 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice.
  • 1/2 cup cooked or canned beans or peas.
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit, such as raisins or dates.


As beta carotene is fat-soluble, eating foods rich in this antioxidant with olive oil, for example, will increase the amount you absorb!

What About Antioxidant Supplements?

Most of the antioxidants we need can be sourced from the food we eat. But the 'Five a Day' rule is nowhere near enough to provide us with all the nutrients we need to enjoy optimum health. Plus, the food we eat is often very poor in nutrients contributing very little toward the armament of antioxidants we need to fight free radical damage.

Did you know that in Japan people are encouraged to have 13 vegetables and 4 fruits daily? How about that?

If you feel you're nowhere near that goal and you need some help, here is a list of antioxidant supplements you might want to consider.

Coming Next...

I hope you have enjoyed reading this newsletter. Beta carotene is just one of the many wonderful carotenoid antioxidants. As we mentioned earlier, lutein and lycopene are two other very important antioxidants. How can you benefit from them and where can you find them?

This is what I will discuss in the next issue of Discover the Power of Healing Foods! newsletter. You don't want to miss it!

Also, if this newsletter has raised some questions in your mind about antioxidants or you'd like specific information on them, don't hesitate to get in touch with me.

The next issue will be sent out on Wed 13th February 2013.

Until Next Time

Aurora Raisbeck

Go to Foods' Healing Power Homepage

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