The best way to increase your intake of beta-carotene and other carotenoids is to increase the amount of vegetables and fruit in your diet, particularly those in the yellow and orange color range, and dark green leafy vegetables.
Some of the best sources of beta-carotene include carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, winter squash, broccoli, cantaloupe, apricots, mangoes, kale, spinach, watercress and algae like chlorella and dunaliella salina.
While there is no toxicity associated with large amounts of natural beta-carotene foods, as the body eliminates what it doesn’t need, a slight orange tinge to the skin has been occasionally observed in people who eat a lot of beta-carotene foods regularly. Juicing several large carrots a day for several weeks without a break could be an example. You’d be unlikely to absorb the beta-carotene from more than a couple of juiced carrots anyway, so better off mixing it up with other veggies like beetroot and celery, than juicing half a bag of carrots alone.
Research has show that beta-carotene is not destroyed by moderate heat and steaming veggies like carrots, pumpkins, spinach and squash will release more of the nutrient. Steaming is always a better way to cook your veggies than boiling them in water. When you boil vegetables, many of the important nutrients leech into the water and go down the drain rather than into your body. Plus steamed veggies usually taste better anyway.
Importantly, beta-carotene and other carotenoids are fat-soluble and require fat in the diet, preferably in the meal for proper absorption. 3 to 5 mg is suggested as a minimum. Perhaps a tablespoon of olive oil or pumpkin seed oil with your carrots or in your salad dressing would be helpful if the meal didn’t contain other fats.
Healthy fats in our diet are very important for proper nutrition. Those on low-fat diets may be inhibiting their ability to absorb beta-carotene and other pro-vitamin A carotenoids. Low-fat dieting is also ineffective for losing weight and can be damaging to our health for a whole range of reasons.
Beta-Carotene Recommended Daily Intake
There is no official recommended daily allowance for beta-carotene as for many years the people that set these type of things saw it as just vitamin A precursor. Now that more of the health benefits of beta-carotene are becoming understood, researchers, like those at the National Cancer Institute, are suggesting a daily intake of at least 6 mg (10,000 IU) of beta-carotene. The majority of people, with their low intake of vegetables and fruit, are probably getting closer to 1 mg.
Beta carotene absorption may be hampered by cigarette smoke, alcohol, birth control pills, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and other substances that interfere with normal absorption of dietary fats. As mentioned in the last page on beta-carotene, antioxidants and skin aging, if you think you could use more beta-carotene but have trouble eating enough of the right type of foods, or think your absorption may be blocked, a beta-carotene supplement with other mixed carotenoids from a natural source like dunaliella salina algae seems a far better choice than the synthetic beta-carotene in most multivitamin tablets.
Simple Steps for More Beta-Carotene
Simple steps for getting a higher daily intake of beta-carotene might include having steamed carrots, sweet potato or pumpkin as a side serve rather than potatoes; more green leafy salads as a base for your meal rather than pasta or rice; extra yellow and orange vegetables in a healthy stirfry; more soups and juices made with high beta-carotene foods; and carrot sticks in avocado dip for a snack instead of fattening crisps or crackers.
Aside from all the protective beta-carotene, most people will feel healthier and more energetic by simply switching their ‘white carbs’ to orange, yellow and green ones. They look better on the plate as well, and actually, when you really take the time eating, rather than just shoveling the food down as most people do, they really do taste better too.
Photo credit with thanks: Dimitri N