What's Good and Bad about Beta-Carotene?

Carrots are filled with beta-carotene, a plant pigment that gives color to vegetables such as carrots, mangoes, and yams. Leafy greens are another major source of this antioxidant. Beta-carotene is the most common and well-known member of the carotenoid family.

Carotenoids are compounds that the body converts into vitamin A. This is why people say that eating carrots is good for eyesight because vitamin A is essential for retinal health. Yet ingesting too much beta-carotene may pose a health risk.

Carotenemia is a health condition in which very high levels of beta-carotene in your body can give your skin an orangish-yellow tint, a condition called xanthoderma. In most cases, carotenemia results from eating too many foods with high levels of beta-carotene, like carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes.

Although carotenemia is a harmless cosmetic issue, new research now suggests that too much beta-carotene cancels out the benefits of vitamin A, which may lead to much more serious health issues, including night blindness and other eye disorders.

Carotenemia is common in the following groups:

  • Infants: Commercially prepared baby food has large amounts of carrots and other foods with high levels of beta-carotene in them.

  • Light-complexioned people: Whether they have higher rates of the condition is unknown; however, their light coloring makes the condition more apparent.

  • People who eat a strictly vegetarian diet: Vegetarians typically eat larger amounts of beat-carotene-rich foods than nonvegetarians do.

  • Those who take high levels of beta-carotene supplements: These supplements can lead to the disease.

Before panicking and eliminating carrots and other orange vegetables from your diet, take this advice: Relax and enjoy your carrots or pumpkin, just don’t eat too much.

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