Carotenoids are back in the news again. These are the naturally occurring, fat-soluble pigments that provide the bright colors you see in certain plants and even animals. They are responsible for the red, yellow, and orange color of fruits and vegetables, and are also found in many dark green vegetables. If you eat a typical North American diet, it’s likely you’re consuming a few of these well-known carotenoids with your daily meals: beta-carotene; alpha-carotene; gamma-carotene; lycopene; lutein; beta-crpytoxanthin; zeaxanthin; and astaxanthin.
Although you might think that a pigment has no beneficial effects on your health, this is definitely not the case (Read the article on The Better Eyesight Vitamin to find out how carotenoids could help protect your eyesight). Dietary intake of carotenoids, in fact, is associated with a reduced risk of a variety of cancers that can crop up in different tissues.
Studies have shown that some carotenoids have potent antitumor effects. In other words, foods that are high in carotenoids are also foods that could prevent cancer. Japanese researchers at the Tohkai Cytopathology Institute of Cancer Research and Prevention looked at the potential preventive and/or therapeutic roles for carotenoids in chemoprevention.
Since chemoprevention is one of the most important strategies in the control of cancer development (i.e. preventing cancer rather than treating it after it has already taken hold), molecular-based cancer chemoprevention using carotenoids could be a great approach to the disease.
The researchers determined that various carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, a-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin, fucoxanthin, canthaxanthin, and astaxanthin, have anti-carcinogenic activity in several tissues. These carotenoids all work on the molecular level to stop tumor growth before it has the chance to spread.
To boost your dietary levels of carotenoids (which are full of antioxidants ), add these healing foods to your diet:
— Sweet potatoes
— Red peppers
Keep in mind that the longer you cook vegetables, the more likely you are to decrease the availability of carotenoids. Cooking changes carotenoids from their original structure.
For example, raw carrots contain 100% beta-carotene, whereas boiled carrots contain 75% or less of this carotenoid.
There are some exceptions to this rule, however. In certain cases, cooking can improve the availability of carotenoids. For example, lycopene from tomato products is increased when foods are processed at high temperatures. Strangely enough, your body can absorb the lycopene in canned tomato juice more easily than the lycopene in a fresh tomato.