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Beta Carotene

Carotenes, especially beta-carotene, occurs abundantly in the natural plant world. It is estimated that nearly more than 500 different carotenoids such as ?-carotene, α -carotene, lutein, cryptoxanthins, zeaxanthins, etc., distributed throughout the plant and algae kingdoms. Although many of these have proven independent functions, around 50 or more can be metabolized to vitamin-A inside the human body.

?-carotene is the most prevalent carotenoid in the plant sources of the food chain and, for the same reason, is also known as pro-vitamin A.

Roughly, 6 μg (range varies widely 6-18 μg) of ?-carotene is equal to 1 RE (Retinol equivalents) or 3.33 IU of vitamin-A.

fruit and vegetables rich in carotenes
Fruits and vegetables rich in ?-carotene.

Beta Carotene Health benefits

  • Being an important flavonoid compound, beta-carotene has powerful antioxidant functions that help the body scavenge free radicals, and thereby limiting damage to cell membranes, DNA, and protein structures in the tissues.

  • Research studies suggest that dietary intake of foods high in ?-carotene has a positive association with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease as well as oral cavity and lung cancers.

  • Up on conversion to vitamin-A by the enzymes in the intestinal wall, it performs all the functions of vitamin-A such as visual cycle, reproduction (gametes production), maintenance of epithelial functions, growth, and development.

Natural sources of beta-carotene

Almost all the green-yellow-orange (GYO) vegetables and fruits are rich sources of beta-carotene. Some of the common vegetables/fruits/herbs/nuts per 100 g of weight with the highest content of ?-carotenes are:

Vegetables: ?-carotene/100 g
Brussel sprouts 450 μg
Butternut-squash 4226 μg
Carrots 8285 μg
Collard greens 3842 μg
Endive 1500 μg
French beans 379 μg
Kale 9226 μg
Lettuce 5226 μg
Mustard greens 6300 μg
Pumpkin 3100 μg
Spinach 5626 μg
Sweet potato 8509 μg
Swiss chard 3647 μg
Tomato 449 μg
Watercress 1914 μg
Apricots 1,094 μg
Cantaloupes 2,020 μg
Guava 374 μg
Mango 445 μg
Orange 71 μg
Papaya 276 μg
Persimmon fruit 253 μg
Plums 190 μg
Watermelon 303 μg
Basil 3,142 μg
Cilantro 3,930 μg
Parsley 5,054 μg
Thyme 2,264 μg
Nuts and seeds:
Pistachio 332 μg
Walnuts 12 μg

(Source: USDA National Nutrient Database).

Beta Carotene supplements?

The benefits of beta carotene supplements, however, has surprisingly unexpected results. Two large-scale prospective randomized studies on high-risk cigarette smokers; 1. ?-carotene (α-tocopherol, ?-carotene (ATBC) Cancer Prevention Study and, 2. the ?-carotene and retinal efficacy trial (CARET) found that ?-carotene supplementation indeed increased the rate of lung cancer in the group.

On the contrary, as mentioned above, high dietary intake of foods rich in ?-carotene is associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancers. However, ?-carotene supplementation appears harmful to health, especially in high-risk smokers.


The consumption of excess plant sources of beta-carotene result in the deposition of carotenes in the skin, and tissues could lead to a harmless condition known as carotenemia. The state recedes in itself once foods rich in carotenes withdrawn from the diet. (Medical disclaimer:)

<<-Back to Nutrition articles from Beta Carotene article.

Further reading and References:

Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.

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