Eat Your Colors: The Importance of Carotenoids

Written by: Jason Peters, General Manager, O2 Fitness-Chatham

The Mighty Carotenoid!

What is a carotenoid, you ask??  Well, to simplify the answer, it’s what gives fruits and veggies their natural, vibrant color.  These colors are super powerful antioxidants…think protection for the cells of your body.

It’s pretty widely known that the daily consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables has a direct association with preventing cardiovascular problems, but you might not have known the full extent of their potential health benefits.  Studies have shown the potential for improved eye health, memory and cognitive function, skin elasticity, as well as overall antioxidant protection for your entire body.


How do you get carotenoids?

Well, if you eat at least five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day, you will generally take in enough of these super-nutrients to meet your body’s needs.  Look for foods rich in dark and/or vibrant colors like broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, and blueberries. But this can be a challenge.

You can eat fruits and veggies and not exactly get these antioxidants.  While things like iceberg lettuce and bananas are definitely good for you, they don’t quite pack the antioxidant ‘pop’ of their more colorful siblings mentioned previously.

What if you have a hard time consuming large amounts of fruits and vegetables?

You may want to consider a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement to be sure you’re giving your body the cardiovascular nutrition that it needs.  Look for a supplement/multivitamin source that is high in certain things like beta carotein (at least 5,000IU or International Units), vitamin D (at least 400IU), E (ideally 400IU), as well as containing certain carotenoids like lycopene and lutein.

Even if you do use a supplement, it’s difficult to duplicate the sheer variety of carotenoids found in nature.  For example:

  • Lycopene—extremely important in promoting cervical and prostate health—is found predominantly in tomatoes.
  • Three carrots equal 12,000 units of beta carotene (3x what you may find in a multivitamin).
  • A large serving of spinach will give you 10,000 units of beta carotene.
  • And astaxanthin, a natural carotenoid pigment, gives salmon its orange color and adds the colorful tinge to shrimp, lobster, and crabs.

Ideally, look to get these from natural sources, but if you simply fall short in your intake from foods, it’s okay to look to a supplement to fill in the blanks.


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