Carotenoids – what is it, benefits, what is it for and foods!

Carotenoids are part of the category of bioactive compounds employed with the food source, that is, molecules capable of providing protection against many diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and macular degeneration. They are also important for the proper functioning of the immune system , however, essential for human health. So, learn more about Carotenoids: What is it, Benefits, Food and Contraindications:

What are carotenoids?

Carotenoids are red to violet pigments found in plants, algae and some bacteria Divided into carotenes and xanthophylls. All organisms that depend on solar energy and therefore operate photosynthesis contain these pigments.

Vegetable pigments of a lipid nature, their main feature is the interaction with sunlight. They are actually attributed to the capture of light not absorbed by the plant’s chlorophyll, but also in excess. In this way, Carotenoids  become real photoprotective agents.

Among the most well-known carotenoids  , we can remember lutein , which belongs to the xanthophylls class and which would be useful above all to protect vision. Next, we recall lycopene, contained in tomatoes, which, according to numerous studies, would have anticancer properties. Another particularly widespread carotenoid present mainly in carrots is beta-carotene, which is a precursor of vitamin A. It follows alpha-carotene, with great antioxidant properties.

But we should not think that  Carotenoids   are found only in plants, because they are also rich in other foods of animal origin, such as, for example, salmon and crustaceans. So, as far as vegetables are concerned, it is not only reds and oranges that are rich in these substances, but we can also find large amounts in green leafy vegetables such as  broccoli  and  parsley .

What are carotenoids for?

Thanks to their antioxidant function,  Carotenoids  are able to neutralize the action of free radicals. Because of oxidation, these can lead to various degenerative diseases such as  Alzheimer’s  or  Parkinson ‘s , inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases. Being full of  Carotenoids  on a regular basis means not only protecting you from these diseases, but also fighting premature aging in your body.

Each carotenoid performs different functions. For example, lycopene has many anti-cancer properties. It is mainly responsible for the red color of tomatoes , but also for the pigments in apricot , grapefruit , watermelon , grape and papaya .

Lutein is particularly effective in preventing retinal diseases, preventing certain diseases that degenerate vision. Lutein is found in many green leafy  vegetables such as spinach , salad greens, leeks and peas .

Nutritional role:

For many years, the nutritional importance of these compounds has been almost exclusively related to their ability to act as precursors of vitamin A (or retinol), a substance typical of the animal kingdom. It is in fact a very important characteristic, typical of some Carotenoids  and in particular of B-carotene (in this case, to supply the body with 1 mg of retinol, it takes about 6 mg of B-carotene, while for the other Carotenoids  the proportion it is 12:1.Alpha-carotene, on the other hand, generates vitamin A less easily than the form, but has an antioxidant activity greater than 38%, and it is precisely this protective activity that arouses the interest of researchers.

Carotenoid complex contains:

Lutein  and its structural isomer, zeaxanthin , are Carotenoids , a family of xanthophylls that also includes beta – carotene .


Lutein , is widely described as one of the antioxidants that prevents free radical damage. It also stabilizes and strengthens cell membranes, focusing on the macula, the central area of ​​the retina. But in the macula the highest concentration of lutein  is located in the center (of the fovea), lutein  is present, albeit in smaller amounts, in the crystal.


Astaxanthin is used as an antiphotosensitizer, or as a molecule capable of inhibiting the side effects caused by photosensitivity; the second is an “excessive reaction to harmless exposures to solar radiation in the ultraviolet (UVA) or visible range”.


Lycopene has a number of health benefits: it is active against cardiovascular disease and cell aging. It is a powerful antioxidant, has an anti-aging function and several studies highlight its role in preventing tumors of the digestive system and prostate cancer, according to the World Urology Foundation. Lycopene also decreases the incidence of arthritis , the proliferation of free radicals in the body, and some widespread diseases today, including Parkinson’s disease .


Beta – carotene (also beta-carotene or β-carotene) is an organic compound that belongs to the family of Carotenoids  (a class of organic pigments that are found in plants, algae and some species of bacteria); It is primarily known to be a precursor to vitamin A.

Beta carotene  is one of two forms of carotene; the other is alpha-carotene. Of the two forms, beta- carotene  is the more widely present in nature. Beta-carotene is the main source of vitamin A for those following a vegetarian diet .

Benefits of carotenoids:

Carotenoids are part  of the category of bioactive compounds employed with the food source, that is, molecules capable of providing protection against many diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and macular degeneration . They are also important for the proper functioning of the immune system, therefore essential for human health.

Improves skin:

They guarantee the skin’s elasticity, promote its hydration and regenerate it. They strengthen nails and hair, stimulates the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin color. Melanin also prepares the skin in the sun and thus improves the tan.

Benefits the nervous system:

Carotenoids provide  protection and better resistance to the nervous system. The body uses beta- carotene  (in Spirulina, 80% of Carotenoids  are beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A ) to synthesize vitamin A , which is particularly useful for the proper functioning of the eyes (in case of eye trauma, Vitamin A is one of the main ingredients of the treatment, usually in the form of an ointment).

Protect vision:

Regarding eye health, we also mention the two Carotenoids : lutein  and zeaxanthin, having demonstrated the benefits for eye protection (cataract, macular degeneration…).

Safe option:

It is well known that vitamin A supplementation , taken in excessive amounts, can have toxic effects. On the contrary, there is nothing to fear about the amount of Carotenoids , as the body ensures a regulatory role and converts them into Vitamin A if necessary.

Other benefits:

  • Modulates carcinogenic metabolism;
  • It has oxygen inhibiting action;
  • Inhibits cell proliferation;
  • Protects against ultraviolet rays
  • Increases cell differentiation (through retinoids);
  • Increases the immune system response;
  • Stimulates communication between cells;
  • Eliminates superoxide radicals and reactive nitrogen species.

Importance of a variable and balanced diet:

Many readers may think they have found the key to achieving and maintaining the full health of their bodies. But is it really correct to think that a lycopene pill and a little lutein  are able to protect us from premature aging and cardiovascular disease, preventing hair loss, the appearance of wrinkles and various “wellness diseases”?

Unfortunately, things are not quite like that, because although the miracle pill myth is particularly attractive, it is quite naive to think of reproducing in the laboratory the extraordinary complexity of nutrients present in a vegetable or a fresh fruit. Sure, a pill containing the right amounts and proportions of a blend of vitamins and antioxidants can be a big help, but it cannot replace the extraordinary complexity of micronutrients found in certain foods, such as blackberries , grapes , papaya and citrus fruits (think In nature there are more than 500 types of Carotenoids ).

The age-old recommendation to consume a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day therefore remains perfectly in line with the latest scientific insights into human nutrition.

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