What are Carotenoids and What Should You Know About Them?

What are Carotenoids and What Should You Know About Them?

Many times you have come across the term “carotenoids” and wonder what are these things. The term carotenoids are often coined with plants and nutrition-related topics.

Carotenoids are the natural pigments in plants, which are also found in algae and the photosynthetic bacteria. They are of different colors such as yellow, red, orange and others. In plants, they are a primary part of vegetables and fruits.

The importance of carotenoids for plants is that they give a distinct color to the respective part i.e. fruits and flowers. For humans, carotenoids are extremely important as they are a major antioxidant for the human body.

There are hundreds of carotenoids in the world!

In case you are wondering that there are only orange, red and yellow colored carotenoids, there are more than 600 types of them. Some of these carotenoids are convertible into vitamin A during the chemical proceeding of the body.

Some of the most common carotenoids include the following.

  • Alpha-carotene
  • Beta-carotene
  • Lutein
  • Beta-cryptoxanthin
  • Zeaxanthin
  • Lycopene

The only way to consume these carotenoids is through the diet. The carotenoids from the plant body are converted to human bodies when we eat these parts of the plants. The best absorption of these carotenoids is made through a rich source of fat.

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what are carotenoids?

You should know about the carotenoids rich foods. Some of the options are as follows.

  • Spinach
  • Bell peppers
  • Yams
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kale
  • Watermelon
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Mangoes
  • Oranges

Carotenoids are fat-soluble!

In case you are wondering why the absorption of carotenoids needs fats, the reason is that carotenoids are fat-soluble. They are best absorbed when you are taking them with a fat source.

This is different from protein-rich foods and vegetables that when you cut, chop and cook carotenoids, they are not wasted. Instead of wastage, the nutritional strength of them increases even more.

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There are two types of carotenoids!

Carotenoids are generally classified into two types. One is called xanthophylls and other is called carotenes. Both of these are antioxidant by nature and additionally, they can convert into vitamin A whenever required. The body for healthy growth of the cells essentially requires Vitamin A.

Provitamin A carotenoids are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin and non-provitamin A carotenoids are lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene.


Xanthophyll is a type of carotenoid that contains oxygen. It sometimes looks like a yellow pigment. Xanthophyll protects the damage coming from sunrays. It is extremely beneficial to maintain the eye health. Both lutein and zeaxanthin are a subtype of xanthophyll.

Try to eat the xanthophyll foods more if you are subjected to sun radiations more than normal people. It will protect from all potential damage. Foods rich in xanthophyll are as follows.

  • Spinach
  • Pumpkin
  • Kale
  • Summer squash
  • Avocado
  • Corn
  • Yellow fruits
  • Egg yolks


The second type of carotenoid is called carotenes. They do not carry oxygen like xanthophyll. They are more of orange shade pigment and are associated with orange colored fruits and vegetables.

Carotene carotenoids are very helpful in plant’s development. Both beta-carotene and lycopene are subtypes of this particular type of carotenoids. The food items rich in carotene are as follows.

  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Cantaloupe
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tangerines
  • Winter squash
  • Papaya

what are carotenoids

Carotenoids protect from diseases and enhance immunity

Carotenoids are immunity enhancers that protect the bod from the potential risk of diseases and infections. Pro-vitamin A carotenoids are converted into vitamin A and it further improves the immunity, growth, and development.

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Carotenoids benefit the body in following ways.

Carotenoids for eye health

If you are eating carotenoid-rich foods, it will make the eye cells healthy. It will also prevent the risk of cancerous cell growth in eyes.

Blindness is the complete absence of vision, which is caused by macular degeneration, or the degerenation of the central part of the eye called retina. If the eye is subjected to a long-term exposure to blue light, it will badly affect the eyesight. The carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin help to absorb the blue light. Thus they protect the eye from the potential risk from blue light.

Only if you start eating six milligrams of lutein in your daily diet, the risk of macular degeneration reduces by 43%. What is better than eating a food source which protects the visceral organ of the body by approximately 50%?

Carotenoids for cardiovascular health

Carotenoids are antioxidants, which are meant to be helpful against the internal inflammation in the body. The anti-inflammatory benefit of carotenoid is still under research but it has associated to improve the cardiovascular health.

The reduced inflammation protects against blood pressure, heart diseases, and prevention of arteries blockage.

what are carotenoids

Carotenoids for cancer

Cancer is a growing concern which most of the times end up destroying the visceral organs of the body. Taking a high antioxidant dose will protect the cells from the damage caused by free radicals. It will also protect from substances that otherwise destroy or damage the cellular membranes.

Taking high carotene foods increase the antioxidant count and gives the body this extra protection. It is significantly helpful against cancer by preventing the growth.

Carotenoids are also associated with reducing the risk of cancer particularly lung cancer. Smoking makes you ingest the harmful chemicals that destroy the lungs completely. It takes less time from turning healthy lungs to damaged lungs.

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The scientific research on carotenoids tells that it reduces the risk of cancer when you incorporate carotenoids into your diet. The process is even more accelerated when you quit smoking. Amount of carotenoids in diet make the lungs heal for you and the damaged caused by cigarette is reduced at maximum.

Similarly, skin cancer is also benefited by carotenoid intake. Some carotenoids are capable of converting into vitamin A. The vitamin A helps against many skin problems such as premature skin aging, skin damage caused by the sun, melanoma, wrinkles and skin cancer. In this way, eating carotenoid-rich food makes your skin fresh, healthy and with reduced risk of skin cancer.

Try to eat carotenoid-rich foods in routine!

You should add carotenoid-rich foods to your daily diet. It will make the immunity better and improve the working of all body systems. When carotenoids are available in the form of supplements i.e. vitamin A pills, eating them brings the same benefit as that from eating the foods.

You should try to eat carotenoids from the natural source i.e. food. But if they are not available, taking the supplements is also beneficial. But taking too many supplements may bring unwanted effects that may turn adverse with time.

Always consult your doctor before taking vitamin A or carotenoid supplements. Avoid taking supplements if you are a pregnant or breastfeeding mother. Also, do not combine it with any other supplements or medicines.




The author is a Medical Microbiologist and healthcare writer. She is a post-graduate of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. She covers all content on health and wellness including weight loss, nutrition, and general health. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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