Beta Carotene & Carrots

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Carrots are rich in Beta Carotene

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Dictionary Definition - carotene (n.) Look up carotene at hydrocarbon found in carrots and other plants, 1861, from German carotin, coined 1831 by German chemist H.W.F. Wackenroder (1789-1854) from Latin carota "carrot" (see carrot) + German form of chemical suffix -ine (2), denoting a hydrocarbon

Health Benefits - CharacteristicsMain SourcesDaily Needs

β-Carotene is an organic, strongly coloured red-orange pigment abundant in plants and fruits. It is a member of the carotenes, which are terpenoids (isoprenoids), synthesized biochemically from eight isoprene units and thus having 40 carbons. Among the carotenes, β-carotene is distinguished by having beta-rings at both ends of the molecule. β-Carotene is biosynthesized from geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate.[5] β-Carotene is the most common form of carotene in plants.

All the orange colour is beta carotene is the orange pigment found in carrots, therefore the whole of the orange carrots contains beta-carotene. One small raw carrot (100g) contains 8,353 international units of vitamin A, which includes 4,142 micrograms of beta-carotene.

Beta Carotene, along with other carotenoids, is a molecule that the body easily changes into Vitamin A.  While most nutrition labels will list a recommended amount of vitamin A to include in a healthy diet, most health professionals will recommend that beta carotene be the main source of that vitamin A consumption.  The reason for this is that beta carotene and other carotenoids are found mainly in fruits and vegetables which contain a host of other vitamins and minerals and are very low in fat.  Vitamin A, however, if consumed in its full form, is mainly found in butter and eggs.  Getting your recommenced daily allowance of vitamin A without using beta carotene would mean eating large amounts of saturated fats that would be incredibly unhealthy.  Once absorbed by the small intestines, beta carotene is changed directly into Vitamin A.

Of the 600 known carotenoids, beta-carotene is the most studied and the most physiologically and nutritionally important member of the carotene family. Beta Carotene

About 50 carotenoids have been identified in the human diet, 34 have been identified in the human serum, tissues, and breast milk. Of these, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin are considered "essential " because they serve as precursors of vitamin A (converted to vitamin A by the body).

Discovery - Beta-carotene (C40 H56) is an orange pigment found in most fruits and vegetables. It was first isolated by Heinrich Wilhelm Ferdinand Wackenroder in 1831 in the roots of carrots and named the substance "carotin."  Wackenroder was an analytical chemist at the Pharmaceutical Institute in Jena, Germany.

The earliest studies on carotenoids date back to the beginning of the 19th century. Beta-carotene was first isolated by Wackenroder in 1831, and many other carotenoids were discovered and named during the 1800s, although their structures were still unknown. Not until 1907 was the empirical formula of beta-carotene, C40H56, established by Willstatter and Mieg. The structure was determined by the Nobel prize-winning research of Paul Karrer in 1930-31. This was the first time that the structure of any vitamin or provitamin had been established, and he received a Nobel prize for his work. Steenbock suggested in 1919 that there could be a relationship between beta-carotene and vitamin A. The concept of provitamins (molecules which are converted into vitamins by the body) was entirely new, and proved to have great significance scientifically and commercially.

The earliest use of synthesized beta-carotene was as a food colorant, but during the 1980s the vitamin precursor’s growing reputation as an antioxidant and a possible cancer-fighter resulted in its frequent inclusion in vitamin supplements. Since that time, however, conflicting findings about the benefits of taking synthesized beta-carotene have surfaced. In 1907, Richard Willstater assigned the formula C40 H56 to carotin - read more on carotenoids.   Or here - Live Science

Beta-carotene belongs to a class of chemical compounds called carotenoids. Among many other positive health benefits, carotenoids act as a precursor to vitamin A, so if you know about the benefits of vitamin A, you will completely understand the importance of beta-carotene.

Basically, when you consume foods or ingest supplements containing beta-carotene, it breaks down into vitamin A in your liver.

Beta-carotene is thought to possess many positive health benefits and in particular helps prevent night blindness and other eye problems.

It also effective in skin disorders, enhances immunity, protects against toxins and cancer formations, colds, flu, and infections. It is an antioxidant and protector of the cells while slowing the aging process.

It is considered that natural Beta-Carotene aids in cancer prevention. It is important in the formation of bones and teeth. No vitamin overdose can occur with natural Beta-Carotene. It has been reported that beta carotene offers a notable measure of photoprotection to individuals with porphyria. (Beta-Carotene helps to protect the eye and vision).

Vitamin A is necessary for a large number of metabolic functions similar to other vitamins.  One of the major unique functions of vitamin A is it΄s role in vision, especially dim-light vision.  In third world countries where fruit and vegetables are not readily available, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness in children.  Beta carotene is a rather cheap vitamin to produce, which means this type of blindness is easily preventable.

Vitamin A produced from beta carotene is also necessary for normal cell growth and cell division.  DNA replication requires the presence of vitamin A to function properly.  Because of this, rapidly dividing cells often give the first signs of vitamin A deficiency.  These symptoms include poor skin quality, brittle hair and nausea because of problems with the lining of the stomach.  Vitamin A is also an important part of bone and teeth development.  Inadequate Vitamin A during the growing years will lead to abnormal growth of the extremities.

Another important function of vitamin A includes its use by the body as an antioxidant.  An antioxidant is a molecule that the body can use to block a number of harmful chemical reactions.  One of these harmful reactions involves the interference of DNA replication by free radicals.  Vitamin A and other antioxidants bind with the free radicals and keep them from disrupting cell division.  Another very important action of antioxidants and vitamin A involve the formation of plaques by cholesterol.  Once inside the bloodstream, cholesterol binds together and forms plaques which then attach to the inside of the artery wall and restrict blood flow.  Antioxidants including vitamin A, keep the cholesterol from binding together, and also prevent it from attaching to the walls of the arteries

Primary Beta Carotene Benefits

Heart disease. People whose diets are rich in beta carotene have lower risk of heart disease. Beta carotene works with vitamin E to reduce the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol, which lowers the risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.

Respiratory system problems. High intakes of beta carotene and vitamin C were found to increase lung capacity and relieve respiratory problems, as well as protecting you from breathing disorders such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.

Cancer. Studies show that people who eat a diet rich in carotenoids, had a much lower risk of breast, colon cancer and lung cancer. One way that carotenoids fight cancer is through their antioxidant capacity. Another way that they help is to keep your cells in proper communication, an effective preventive measure against the growth of cancer cells.

Immune system. Beta carotene helps activate your thymus gland, one of your most important sources of immune protection. The thymus gland stimulates your immune system to fight off infections and viruses, and destroy cancerous cells before they can spread.

Radiation. Combining beta carotene with vitamins E & C offers significant protect against ultraviolet radiation from the sun, as well as from chemotherapy. It's interesting to note that vitamin C and vitamin E do not offer this protection on their own. This reinforces the fact that antioxidants work more effectively as a team.

Diabetes. Studies have shown that people with low levels in their bodies are much more likely to suffer from impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes.

Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Studies have shown that low levels of beta carotene and vitamin C have been found to be a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis.

Additional beta carotene benefits include:
• effective as a treatment for dry skin, eczema and psoriasis
• prevents oxidative damage from strenuous exercise
• plays a significant role in prevention vision problems

Characteristics of Beta-Carotene

Like all carotenoids, beta-carotene is:

• the most common form of carotene

• fat soluble - not water-soluble. In a mixed diet, 3-5 grams of fat is enough to ensure its absorption. Carotenoids suspended in oil are more efficiently absorbed than those in water or food.

• manufactured by plants - not animals. In plants, beta-carotene absorbs light, and energy from singlet oxygen - an unstable form of oxygen - and transfers both energies to chlorophyll for photosynthesis. It also acts as a pesticide.

• present in the all-trans configuration in raw fruits and vegetables

• converted to the cis- configuration during cooking. Cis- isomers are shorter in length and are less susceptible to "binding." They are more stable and are more bioavailable.

• released from the food matrix by: chewing, stomach action, and digestive enzymes. The vitamin A activity of beta-carotene in foods is half that of retinol (pre-formed vitamin A). Biologic Activities of Beta-Carotene

• Beta-carotene is converted to Vitamin A (retinal) in the small intestines of mammals by beta-,carotene 15,15 monooxygenase (an enzyme). In times of plenty, retinal is stored in the liver. It is synthesized into active vitamin A in times of need.

• It quenches singlet oxygen. It also reacts with any radical species present in a biological system. As a powerful antioxidant, it breaks down and converts harmful products to inert substances.

• It prevents the oxidation of fat by breaking down the chain-reaction.

• It facilitates communication between cells by enhancing the expression of a gene that codes for connexin proteins. Connexin proteins forms pores or gap junctions in cell membranes, allowing cells to communicate through the exchange of small molecules.

• It improves immune function by protecting phagocytic cells (white blood cells that protects the body by ingesting harmful bodies, bacteria, dead/dying cells); enhancing the response of T & B cells (immune response cells); by stimulating the effects of T-cell functions, macrophage, and natural killer cell capacities, and by increasing the production of interleukins. Interleukins are signalling molecules on white blood cells. They mediate communication between cells.

• It helps maintain night vision. As vitamin A, beta-carotene maintains the cornea and participates in the conversion of light energy into nerve impulses at the retina. The cells of the retina contain rhodopsin, a pigment molecule. As rhodopsin absorbs light, retinal changes which triggers a nerve impulse that carries information to the brain.

• It protects against sunburn by: quenching radical oxygen species and interferring with several signalling pathways that result in UV-B exposure. Significant Food Sources Sweet potatoes tubers and leaves, carrots, cantaloupes, goji berries, palm oil, spinach, chard, egg yolk, liver,pumpkins, squash, mango, turnip greens.

(References Bendich A & Olson TA "Biological Actions of Carotenoids" FASEB Journal June 1989;3(8):1927-32);


So what is your carotene need? Meeting your vitamin A requirement from beta carotene is easy: Eat a handful of baby carrots and you've done it! Six ounces of carrot juice (made from two medium-sized carrots) supplies a whopping 28 mg. of beta carotene.
Since juicing eliminates the hard to digest fibre, nutrients are obtainable to the body in a great deal of larger quantities than if the piece of fruit or vegetable was eaten whole. For instance, since a lot of of the nutrients are in the fibre, when you eat a raw carrot, you are only able to absorb about 1% of the beta-carotene. When a carrot is juiced, eliminating the fibre, virtually 100% of the beta-carotene may be assimilated.
Carrots - serving size 1/2 cup Vitamin A (retinol) equivalents (micrograms) % RDA* for women % RDA* for men
Fresh, raw 2050 256% 205%
Boiled, raw 1790 223% 179%
Boiled, frozen 1290 161% 129%
Boiled, canned 1005 126% 101%

*RDA = Recommended Daily Amount (The RDA of Vitamin A is 800 micrograms for women and 1,000 micrograms for men.) For more information about Vitamin A click here

Tests have shown that three percent of the total beta-carotene content is released from raw carrots when consumed in raw pieces. When homogenized (pulped) 21% was released. Cooking the pulp increased the accessibility to 27%. Addition of cooking oil to the cooked pulp further increased the released amount to 39%. (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2002) 56, 425–430- Estimation of carotenoid accessibility from carrots determined by an in vitro digestion method, Hedren et al)

The Museum page about Vitamin A is here.

Top 10 Foods highest in beta-carotene:

1. Sweet Potato Perhaps the most orange of all fruits and vegetables, sweet potatoes will provide 9444μg of beta carotene per 100g serving. That is 14260μg in a medium sized potato(150g). 2. Kale Kale is considered to be an early form of cabbage, and is delicious steamed with wine. 100 grams of raw kale will provide 9226μg of beta-carotene, 100 grams cooked will provide 8173μg
3. Carrot The beta-carotene in carrots gives them their orange color. 100 grams of raw carrots provides 8285μg of beta-carotene, one medium sized carrot(61g) will provide 5053μg, and one baby carrot(10g) will provide 639μg 4.Turnip Greens Turnip greens add a nice note of spice to any salad or soup. 100 grams of raw turnip greens provides 6952μg of beta-carotene, 100 grams cooked provides 4575μg
5. Mustard Greens Mustard green have even more spice than turnip greens and are great in a salad or wrap. Mustard greens provide 6300μg of beta-carotene per 100g serving, cooked mustard greens will provide 3794μg 6. Spinach An excellent vegetable to add to a wrap or calzone, raw spinach provides 5626μg of beta-carotene per 100g serving. Due to water loss during cooking, cooked spinach provides even more beta-carotene with 6288μg per 100g serving
7. Dried Herbs Dried herbs are so packed with vitamins they appear on practically every HealthAliciousNess top 10 list. Make it a habit to add a pinch of dried herb to everything you prepare. Dried Basil provides the most beta-carotene with 5584μg per 100g serving, it is followed by Dried Parsley (5380μg), Marjoram (4806μg), Dried Oregano (4112μg), Ground Sage (3485μg), Dried Coriander (3407μg), and Fresh Thyme (2851μg). 8. Butternut Squash This dark orange squash has a delicious nutty and sweet flavor. 100 grams baked provides 4570μg of beta-carotene, 100 grams raw will provide 4226μg
9. Lettuce In regards to beta-carotene, the kind of lettuce does matter. Dark colorful lettuces provide the most beta-carotene with Red-Leaf Lettuce providing 4495μg per 100g, Green-Leaf providing 4443μg per 100g, and Iceberg only providing 299μg per 100g 10. Collards A cousin of cabbage and also a good source of calcium, collards provide 3842μg of beta-carotene per 100g serving. Cooked collards provide even more with 4814μg per 100g serving

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