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name of the term : Beta-carotene

Short introduction

  • Beta-carotene or β-carotene is one of the hundreds of carotenoids that exist in nature.
  • Carotenoids are yellow, orange and red pigments that are widely distributed in plants.
  • Beta-carotene is the most abundant and most effective provitamin A (producing vitamin A) in human foods. Other carotenoids found in food, such as lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, are not converted into vitamin A.
  • The vitamin A activity of beta-carotene in food is 1⁄12 that of retinol (preformed vitamin A): 12 µg of beta-carotene from food provides the equivalent of 1 µg (0.001 mg) of retinol.
  • Beta-carotene is a component of human milk.

Main natural sources

  • Yellow, orange vegetables and fruits and dark green leafy vegetables e.g. carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, apricots, papaya, mango, peach, spinach, endive, broccoli. 
  • The content of fruits and vegetables may vary according to the season and degree of ripening.

Main function

  • Most important safe dietary source of vitamin A. Vitamin A can be synthesised from β-carotene. For this reason, β-carotene is also called a pro-vitamin A or a vitamin A precursor (fore-runner).
  • Beta-carotene has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants or free radical scavengers help neutralise free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are formed during normal metabolism (e.g. immune response) or through external factors such as alcohol use, smoking, stress, infections, poor diet. Free radicals are capable of attacking the healthy cells of the body as well as genetic material. They can react with membrane lipids, proteins and enzymes, DNA and other molecules. This may lead to damage, disease and severe disorders.
  • Antioxidants such as beta-carotene are able to control free radical formation. Antioxidants are capable of stabilising, or deactivating, free radicals before they attack cells.
  • Carotenoids work in synergy with vitamin E and also C. These vitamins stabilise and rescue beta-carotene.

Deficiency disease

  • There are no known adverse clinical effects of a low carotenoid diet, provided that vitamin A intake is adequate.
  • Groups that may be at risk: pregnant and lactating women, young children, adolescents (additional demands), people with protein malnutrition and malabsorption.

DRIs (Dietary Reference Intakes) have not been established for beta-carotene. DRIs have been expressed as part of the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for vitamin A.

Synonyms : β-Carotine

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