Don’t risk your health by short-changing yourself on orange, red, and yellow fruits and vegetables. They’re brimming with carotenoids, a kind of super-antioxidant making news. Carotenoids are responsible for the colorful hues of plants and even some animal foods, including salmon and shrimp. But they do more than serve as natural pigments. Carotenoids have “provitamin A activity,” mean-ing that your body produces vitamin A from them, especially beta-caro-tene (the most well known of the carotenoids).As antioxidants, these protective nutrients neutralize free radicals at the cellular level, thus protect-ing cell membranes, DNA, and other cellular components against damage.The first carotenoid to be isolated was beta-carotene. Today, scien-tists have discovered more than 600 carotenoids and are reporting that many may be a hundred times more powerful than beta-carotene and other antioxidants alone.
Among the main carotenoids now under the most investigation are alpha-caro-tene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, ly-copene, and zeaxanthin.Alpha-carotene, which makes up about one-third of the carotenoids in carrots, shows promise in stalling the growth of certain malignant tu-mors and may be protective against breast cancer. Beta-carotene reduc-es the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, breast, uterus, prostate, and lung.
Beta-cryptoxanthin looks promis-ing against breast cancer and lung cancer. Lycopene appears to be protective against cancer of the colon, bladder, and pancreas, but is particularly noteworthy for its role in preventing prostate cancer. In a diet study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, research-ers identified lycopene as being par-ticularly powerful against prostate cancer. Tomato sauce, tomatoes, tomato juice, and pizza are prima-ry sources of lycopene, and those individuals who consumed greater than 10 servings of these combined foods per week had a significant-ly decreased risk of developing prostate cancer when compared to those who ate less than 1 1/2 servings per week.Lutein, better known for prevent-ing eye diseases, may guard against cancer of the colon, lung and breast. Its less-well-known companion ca-rotenoid, zeaxanthin, is linked to a lower risk of breast, cervical, and colon cancers. Both carotenoids are being investigated for their role in preventing skin cancer.
The table on the following page provides an overview of the key carotenoids, their health benefits, and food sources in which they’re found.As extra insurance for all the an-tioxidant nutrients you need, be sure you’re supplementing daily with Parrillo Essential Vitamin Formula™ and Parrillo Mineral-Electrolyte Formula™.What You Can Do Now: There’s no recommended daily require-ment for beta-carotene and oth-er carotenoids. However, many health experts recommend 6 mil-ligrams a day of beta-carotene. When you eat beta-carotene-rich foods, you’re automatically get-ting other carotenes.Here are some tips for super-charging your diet with carot-enoids:• Use the counter to identify the best sources of carotenoids. In-clude these foods in your daily diet.• Color your plate with as many colorful vegetables you can. The more colorful your food selec-tions, the more carotenoids you’ll eat.• Eat canned soups with a tomato base.• Drink vegetable juices rather than sodas.• Eat a hefty serving of tomatoes or tomato-based foods at least twice a week or more.
• Add extra tomato sauce or paste to soups or stews.• Eat sandwiches and salads with to-matoes.• Make sure fruits and vegeta-bles are as fresh as possible. Once they’re plucked from the vine or harvested from the ground, their antioxidant power starts to dwindle.• Snack on raw fruits and vegetables to get the most carotenoids. One exception, though, is carrots, which actually release more carot-enoids when cooked.• Enjoy exotic fruits such as guavas or mangoes for a change of pace.• Blend cooked carrots or pump-kin into a smoothie.