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Beta-carotene: A Healing Nutrient Profile

The vibrant orange pigment in carrots and sweet potatoes does a lot more than keep our eyes sharp and our skin radiant
Written by 
Canyon Ranch Staff
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 

What does beta-carotene do?


Our bodies convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, which we need for a strong immune system, good vision and healthy skin. Beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant that may have a role in preventing cancer and heart disease; the nutrient appears to reduce the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, a step that leads to harmful plaque build-up in blood vessels.

Beta-carotene is one of about 500 carotenoids, a group of red, orange and yellow plant pigments. Although beta-carotene is the most common, and perhaps the most potent, of the carotenoids, many have beneficial effects. Together they provide about half of the vitamin A our bodies need (we get the rest of our vitamin A directly from meat, fish and dairy).


How much beta-carotene do you need?


There’s no official recommended daily allowance (RDA) for beta-carotene, and the amount suggested for optimal nutrition ranges from 4,000 IU (2.5 mg) to 25,000 IU (15 mg). Most of your beta-carotene should come from food. High doses of supplements have been linked to health problems—smokers who take large-dose supplements of beta-carotene may be at higher risk of lung cancer, for example. At Canyon Ranch, we recommend an intake of no more than 5,000 IU of carotenoids (including beta-carotene) from supplements.


Where can you get beta-carotene?

Beta-carotene is an orange pigment found in plants—it gives yellow and orange foods like carrots and cantaloupe their color. Dark orange and dark green fruits and vegetables are the best sources of beta-carotene (the brighter the better), but it’s important to eat a mix of fruits and vegetables to get a variety of carotenoids. Some of our favorite foods that contain beta-carotene include:

Food

Serving size

Amount of Beta-carotene (IU)

Pumpkin

1 cup

21,616

Sweet Potato

1 cup

19,904

Carrots, cooked

1 cup

15,320

Frozen spinach, cooked

1 cup

5,912

Baked butternut squash

1 cup

5,712

Kale, cooked

1 cup

3,848

Cantaloupe

½ small-sized

3,444

Apricots, dried

¼ cup

940

Apricots, dried, cooked

½ cup

2,192


You can look up the beta-carotene content of other foods by using the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

Reference(s) 
Institute of Medicine
MedlinePlus
University of Maryland Medical Center