Have you ever wondered what gives flamingos their pleasantly pink hue, or why your mom told you growing up that carrots can give you x-ray vision? Carotenoids – nature’s secret weapon – are the answer! These fat-soluble pigments are molecules found in most types of plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria. In fact according to an article on Healthline.com, there are over six hundred known carotenoid types – which each have a plethora of functions in maintaining optimal function in the human body.
Types of Carotenoids
There are two main classes of carotenoids – xanthophylls and carotenes. Xanthophylls are oxygen rich and associated with maintaining healthy eyesight by preventing the degradation of the retinas, which has been shown to contribute to blindness. They are found in leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, and gourds like pumpkins and squash. One type of xanthophyll, the red-hued astaxanthin, has been shown to promote healthy aging as it protects important muscles such as the heart from environmental toxins and irritants. Astaxanthin is what causes flamingos’ feathers to be pink as the shrimp they consume are full of this carotenoid.
Carotenes, unlike xanthophylls, are hydrocarbons that lack oxygen bonds. They are typically associated with orange pigments and give tangerines, pumpkins, and carrots their characteristic sunny hues. Some common types of carotenes include beta carotene and lycopene.
Benefits of Carotenoids
As mentioned earlier, there are so many ways that carotenoids can be incorporated into the diet to improve one’s health. An article published by ScienceDirect stated that xanthophylls such as lutein and zeaxanthin absorb specific wavelengths of light which can protect against eye damage. In the same publication, the carotene lycopene was shown to contribute towards cancer prevention and maintaining a healthy heart.
In order to get the most out of carotenoid-rich foods, you would need to chop and cook vegetables and fruits so that the carotenoids will be at their maximum strength when they enter the bloodstream. Another way that you can get the health benefits associated with carotenoids into your system is by taking vitamin supplements derived from carotenoids such as Vitamin A capsules. Keep in mind, however, that the best way to get these vitamins into the body is by consuming foods that already have carotenoids in them since you’d also be getting the antioxidant benefits. Improving your diet is the key to improving your health. As the old verbiage goes – you are what you eat.