The best foods for carotenoids are those that contain the orange, red, and yellow pigments. These include brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, and peppers. Greens are also a good source of carotenoids; however, the yellow pigment is drowned in the high levels of chlorophyll that they contain. In addition to plant foods, carotenoids can also be found in animal foods, including salmon, milk, and egg yolks.
Carotenoids are fat-soluble pigments that give their color to food. They act as powerful antioxidants that help protect against many degenerative diseases including many types of cancers. As the human body is unable to manufacture them, carotenoids must be obtained from the diet. Although there are more than 600 different carotenoids, only about 40 are a regular part of the human diet. Some of the most common ones are the carotenes and xanthophylls.
The carotene group includes beta carotene, alpha carotene, and lycopene. The alpha and beta carotenes are the food pigments that provide yellow and orange colors to the foods in this group. They are converted into vitamin A once ingested and are said to be good for the eyes and skin. Carrots, as well as apricots and peaches, are excellent sources for these carotenes. Some greens including broccoli, kale, and other leafy greens are also good sources.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that can help protect the body against cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases. It is found in abundance in tomatoes and anything that is made from tomatoes, such as pastes, juices, and soups. Even though lycopene is present in raw tomatoes, it is even more abundant when they are cooked or processed as the high temperatures are able to increase the lycopene content. Many other red foods, including watermelon and grapefruit, are also good sources; however, cherries and strawberries, which are also red, do not contain lycopene.
Among the xanthophyll carotenoids, which provide yellow pigments to foods, are lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in abundance in many leafy greens, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. They are also found in yellow foods including egg yolks and corn. Both lutein and zeaxanthin are beneficial for the eyes and can help prevent cataracts and other vision problems.
Beta-cryptoxanthin is found in orange and reddish foods, such as apples, oranges, and papaya. As with the alpha and beta carotenes, it is a precursor to vitamin A. It acts as a powerful antioxidant and can help protect the body against harmful toxins and lung cancer.