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Vitamins, Carotenoids, and Phytochemicals

Description

An in-depth report on the dietary importance of vitamins and other nutrients.

Alternative Names

Carotenoids; Dietary Recommendations; Flavonoids; Phytochemicals; Vasovasostomy

Carotenoids

Carotenoids are a group of more than 700 fat soluble nutrients that produce the colors in foods such as carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and other deep green, yellow, orange, and red fruits and vegetables. Many are proving to be very important for health. Beta carotene is the most widely studied carotenoid, but others are proving to be of great interest. As with some, but not all, carotenoids, beta carotene is known as a provitamin A because it converts to the vitamin in the body.

They are categorized as either xanthophylls or carotenes according to their chemical composition.

Carotenes

Carotenes are hydrocarbons and most are found in yellow, orange, and red vegetables. They include beta and alpha carotene and lycopene.

  • Beta Carotene and other Provitamin A Carotenoids. Beta carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin are carotenes that are converted into vitamin A or retinol (the active form of vitamin A) in the body. They are found in many yellow fruits and vegetables. Beta carotene is the most widely studied carotenoid. Evidence now strongly suggests that when taken as a separate supplement it can have harmful effects.
  • Lycopene. Lycopene is responsible for the red color in fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, red grapes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit. It is also found in papayas and apricots. It does not convert to vitamin A but may have important cancer fighting properties and other health benefits.
  • The beneficial actions of most carotenes such as those tomatoes, corn, and carrots, appear to be enhanced by cooking them, especially in oil (preferably olive, canola, or another monounsaturated oil). (Note: Cooking can also destroy certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, in these vegetables.)

Xanthophylls

Xanthophylls contain oxygen and most are found in green vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale. They are also in yellow fruits and vegetables. Xanthophylls include lutein and zeaxanthin, which are both stored in the retina of the eye. Neither converts to vitamin A. Both are powerful antioxidants and may be very important for healthy eyes. Unlike carotenes, cooking may reduce the antioxidant activity of some xanthophylls in foods, although probably not to any significant degree.

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