Beta-carotene (β-carotene) belongs to the family of carotenoids and is a naturally occurring pigment. In the body, it primarily serves as a precursor to vitamin A. The body cannot produce it on its own. Plant-based beta-carotene foods can be quickly identified by their intense orange or yellow colors, which are characteristic of the carotenoid. Therefore, corresponding foods are also found in the upper range of our beta-carotene table.
After consumption, beta-carotene is mainly converted into vitamin A in the intestines. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for vision, the immune system, cell growth and development, as well as the health of the skin and mucous membranes.
Beta-carotene can strengthen the immune system. It enhances the function and activity of certain immune cells. The production of antibodies and the activity of natural killer cells are increased with the help of this carotenoid.
Beta-carotene also exerts antioxidant effects in the body. It protects the cells from the harmful effects of free radicals, which are caused, among other things, by environmental pollution, UV radiation, and smoking.
Beta-carotene is also beneficial for skin health. It can protect the skin from damage caused by UV radiation by acting as a natural sunscreen to a small extent, reducing the development of sunburn. Additionally, beta-carotene can improve skin elasticity and contribute to a healthy complexion.
What is the need for beta-carotene?
The body does not have a specific requirement for beta-carotene as an essential nutrient, as it is not considered a vital nutrient. The requirement for vitamin A may vary depending on age, gender, and specific circumstances. The recommended daily intake of vitamin A is measured in retinol equivalents (RE), which include both the natural form of vitamin A and its precursors such as beta-carotene. A balanced diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables can easily meet the requirement for vitamin A.
However, since beta-carotene exerts certain effects in the body, some groups of people may need to consume more beta-carotene-rich foods than others:
- Smoking can lead to increased oxidative stress, which increases the demand for antioxidants such as beta-carotene.
- Certain environmental conditions or occupational fields may require a higher intake of beta-carotene. These include individuals regularly exposed to harmful environmental factors such as air pollution, sun exposure, or chemical substances associated with increased oxidative stress. In such cases, consuming beta-carotene-rich foods can help prevent health damage.
- Individuals with digestive problems, gastrointestinal disorders, or who have undergone surgery may have an increased need for beta-carotene.
- People with skin conditions such as psoriasis or vitiligo can benefit from an adequate intake of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene supports skin health.
- Since beta-carotene is a fat-soluble provitamin A that is absorbed and utilized together with fat, individuals with conditions such as pancreatic insufficiency or gallbladder removal may have difficulty efficiently absorbing beta-carotene from food.
- Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis), or asthma can lead to increased oxidative stress and an enhanced inflammatory response in the body. In such cases, increasing beta-carotene intake can support antioxidant capacity and reduce inflammation.
Beta-Carotene Foods / Sources
Beta-carotene is primarily found in plant-based foods. The following list reveals which ones:
- Orange-colored vegetables are very rich in beta-carotene. These include carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, and Hokkaido squash. Leafy green vegetables also contain beta-carotene. These include spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and arugula. You can find the table of beta-carotene content in vegetables here.
- In addition to vegetables, fruits are also rich in beta-carotene. The best examples include mangoes, sea buckthorn berries, grapefruits, passion fruits, papayas, cantaloupe melons, apricots, persimmons, and peaches. These fruits have a yellow or orange color, indicating their high beta-carotene content.
- Spices and herbs can also contain a significant amount of beta-carotene. Examples of beta-carotene-rich herbs and spices are paprika powder, turmeric, tomato powder, parsley, marjoram, sage, thyme, and matcha powder.
- Algae species such as spirulina and chlorella are very rich in beta-carotene. These marine plants are often available as dietary supplements in powder or tablet form and can serve as a concentrated source of beta-carotene.
- Some legumes also contain some beta-carotene, although in smaller amounts compared to vegetables and fruits. Examples include chickpeas, lentils, and black beans. Legumes are also an excellent source of plant-based protein and fiber.
- Especially freshly squeezed juices can be a good source of beta-carotene. When making or buying fresh juices, make sure they are made from beta-carotene-rich fruits and vegetables. Carrot juice, for example, is the most well-known source among beta-carotene drinks.
If you want to increase the beta-carotene content in your diet, avoid heavily processed foods as they often contain lower amounts of beta-carotene. Instead, choose fresh and unprocessed foods.
Eating Beta-Carotene Foods with Fat
Beta-carotene is a fat-soluble nutrient. Its absorption is enhanced when combined with fat. Therefore, when consuming beta-carotene-rich foods, use some healthy fat found in avocados, olive oil, as well as nuts and seeds to maximize the absorption of beta-carotene. You can find a list of high-fat foods here.
Here are examples of vegan recipes that contain beta-carotene-rich foods:
- Carrot Raw Salad: Cut carrots into thin strips and snack on them together with nuts (for absorption).
- Sweet Potato Fries: Cut sweet potatoes into fries, coat them with a little oil, and bake them in the oven.
- Spinach Smoothie: Blend spinach, mango, banana, and almond milk to make a delicious smoothie.
- Pumpkin Soup: Prepare a creamy pumpkin soup and enhance it with some coconut milk.
- Mango Avocado Salad: Cut mango and avocado into cubes, drizzle with lime juice, and add fresh cilantro.
- Carrot Ginger Soup: Cook carrots and ginger, blend them, and add a bit of coconut milk for refinement.
- Mango Salsa: Mix mango, red onions, lime juice, and cilantro, and serve as a dip or with dishes.
- Beet Salad: Cook beets, slice them, and mix with arugula, walnuts, and vegan feta cheese.
- Orange Avocado Salad: Slice oranges and avocados, arrange them with arugula, walnuts, and a lemon vinaigrette.
- Spinach Apple Salad: Mix spinach leaves with apple cubes, almonds, and a balsamic dressing.
- Corn Pepper Salsa: Mix corn, peppers, onions, cilantro, and lime juice, and serve as a dip or with dishes.
- Pumpkin Hummus: Blend pumpkin with chickpeas, garlic, tahini, and lemon juice to create a delicious hummus.
- Red Pepper Soup: Roast red peppers, blend them, and add a bit of coconut milk for refinement.
- Red Lentil Carrot Curry: Cook red lentils with carrots, coconut milk, and curry spices to make a tasty curry.
- Sweet Potato Avocado Toast: Top toasted whole wheat bread with sweet potato puree, avocado slices, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.