12 Jan 2022

What is beta-carotene good for?

Written by Ashley
Beta-carotene is a nutrient and antioxidant found in many foods which we convert to vitamin A. However, many people have never heard of beta-carotene or its brilliant benefits for our health. In this article, we explain everything you need to know about this little-appreciated nutrient, and what beta-carotene is good for in terms of your wellbeing.

What is beta carotene?

Beta-carotene is an orange-red pigment which occurs naturally in lots of plants. If a fruit or vegetable is orange, yellow or red, there’s a good chance it contains beta-carotene.

This nutrient has a number of health-promoting properties which have attracted scientific interest.(1)

For instance, our bodies can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, which we need for vital processes such as healthy vision.

Furthermore, beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant. Research has also linked it with a reduced risk of certain diseases.

However, it’s still not as widely-known as more ‘famous’ nutrients such as vitamins C and E. Given its impressive health properties, it’s definitely worth your time to understand a bit more about this special nutrient. Let’s start off with where you can source it.

Where can you find beta-carotene?

Brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables can be a dead giveaway for the presence of beta-carotene. For example, carrots, apricots, chillis and grapefruits all contain it. We love to source it from our Organic Sea Buckthorn Juice, which is also rich in vitamin C!

However, beta-carotene isn’t limited to orange and red fruit and veg. It’s also present in Chinese cabbage, asparagus and broccoli.

While plants can produce beta-carotene themselves, animals and humans cannot. As a result, we need to source it from our diets. In fact, it’s the main carotenoid in the human diet.(1)

Some companies also make beta-carotene supplements in tablet or capsule form.


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What are carotenoids?

The term ‘carotenoid’ covers a vast family of around 750 different pigments, including beta-carotene. Plants, algae and certain types of bacteria can all produce them.(2)

Other types of carotenoid you may have heard of include lycopene, the pigment found in tomatoes, and lutein and zeaxanthin, which may be important in supporting your eye health.

Some carotenoids can be turned into vitamin A, but not all of them.

People who eat a balanced diet which includes a rainbow of healthy fruit and vegetables will get enough beta-carotene to satisfy their needs. However, it’s important to note that in order for us to properly absorb carotenoids from our diet, we need to eat them alongside a small amount of fat.

Cooking and puréeing foods which contain carotenoids also increases their bioavailability, helping us to better absorb them.(2)

In short, if you’re throwing carrots and peppers into your salad, you’ll get the most carotenoid benefits if you drizzle over a little olive oil, or roast them first!

Beta-carotene and vitamin A

Perhaps the best-known benefit of beta-carotene is that it is a major dietary source of vitamin A.

We can break down some of the beta-carotene we get from our diets by essentially chopping the molecule in half, producing retinol. (This is a heavily simplified version of the chemical process, but you get the gist!).(3)

You can therefore get two molecules of vitamin A per molecule of beta-carotene. So, does that mean we effectively get double the vitamin A for every quantity of beta-carotene we consume? Unfortunately not; our bodies are not particularly efficient at converting beta-carotene to vitamin A.

In fact, we need to consume about 12µg of beta-carotene in our diet to produce 1µg of retinol.(2)

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