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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well
 

Beta-carotene

Melissa Bess, former Nutrition and Health Education Specialist; Edited by Jessica Kovarik, RD, LD, former Extension Associate, University of Missouri Extension

 

Fall is upon us with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in season during this time of year. The many different colors of fruits and vegetables indicate different phytonutrients. Each phytonutrient enhances health in a different way. Eating a rainbow of colors through a variety of fruits and vegetables will ensure you are getting different phytonutrients. One phytonutrient commonly seen in fall fruits and vegetables is beta-carotene.


Beta-carotene is an orange and yellow pigment that can be converted to a form of vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A plays an important role in vision and preventing night blindness. It also promotes bone growth, reproduction and cell division. In addition, vitamin A helps protect cells from damaging free radicals and enhances the function of the immune system. Beta-carotene and vitamin A are antioxidants and can help decrease the risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.


Some foods that contain beta-carotene include: sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash, pumpkin, apricots, peaches, cantaloupe, kale, spinach, turnip greens and collard greens. Vitamin A can come from animal foods as well. Sources include liver, milk, cheese, margarine, fortified breakfast cereals and egg substitutes.


Vitamin A is listed on most food labels. If you aren’t sure how much vitamin A a food has, be a nutrition-savvy consumer and read the Nutrition Facts Label.


Dietary supplements, such as a multivitamin, may help provide extra vitamin A if one is lacking in that nutrient. However, the body is able to store some vitamin A and too much of it can be toxic. Getting vitamin A and beta-carotene from foods is the best choice.


A healthy eating plan that includes lots of colorful fruits and vegetables can help lower the risk for many diseases and boost health. Remember to eat a rainbow of foods!

 

 


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Last update: Friday, December 18, 2015