Beta carotene is a nutrient that is found in many different fruits and vegetables. It is typically associated with foods that are orange in color, such as carrots and cantaloupe. Despite the strong association with color, it is also found in many other foods, including kale, thyme and spinach. Some of the main benefits of beta carotene are that it helps vision, skin health and the immune system. There are also many claims that this nutrient can help in the fight against cancer, but it is generally felt that this has not been proven.
Important among the many benefits of beta carotene are its power as an antioxidant. This means that it helps to remove harmful substances from the cells in the body. Many experts feel that the benefits of beta carotene are best combined with those of other types of antioxidants. The combination works more effectively than a single substance to remove the damaging free radicals, the term used to describe these harmful substances in the body.
Beta carotene is one of a group of nutrients called carotenoids. Some of the substances in this group can be converted into vitamin A by the human body. This is one of the best-recognized and most essential benefits of beta carotene, since the body requires vitamin A for many different purposes. Some of the main functions are to support growth, normal immune system function, and eye health.
To provide the best results and to realize the maximum benefits of beta carotene, foods containing this nutrient should be eaten along with a small amount of fat. This allows them to be absorbed and utilized effectively. Butter and oil can be used in the preparation of vegetables containing carotenoids in order to increase their availability to the body.
There is disagreement among researchers as to whether or not taking supplements can provide the same level of benefits of beta carotene as getting the nutrient directly from food. In two studies, one in Finland and one in the United States, the results seem to indicate that cancer risk is actually increased with a high level of beta carotene supplementation.
Lower levels of supplementation did not produce the same effects. Since the studies in question only looked at a very high-risk segment of the population it is also possible that the benefits of beta carotene were not realized because there was already too much damage done. Studies where dietary beta carotene was used do not appear to indicate the same level of risk.