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From Pumpkin to Papaya: Exploring the Benefits of Carotenoid Rich Foods

Carotenoids represent a diverse group of over 750 pigments that occur naturally and are produced by plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria. These vibrant compounds are responsible for imparting the yellow, orange, and red hues commonly seen in various plants. The majority of the 40 to 50 carotenoids present in the human diet are sourced from fruits and vegetables(1).

Carotenoids play a vital role in human health. Possessing strong antioxidant activity, it has been proposed that some carotenoids may help reduce the risk of cancer(2)

Some of the main characteristics of carotenoids are as follows:

  • – Bright yellow, red, and orange-colored pigments. 
  • – Found in plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria.
  • – Fruits are a very rich source of carotenoids.
  • – Some vegetables such as sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin, and spinach also possess high amounts of carotenoids.
  • – Precursors of Vitamin A: α-carotene, β-carotene, and β-cryptoxanthin. 
  • – Strong antioxidant agents: lutein, lycopene, and fucoxanthin. 

Phytochemical

Food Sources

Part of the Plant

Benefits for Human Health

Carotenoids

α-carotene

Mango, pear, peach, pumpkin, butternut squash, green bean, okra, avocado, chard, collard greens, tangerine, banana

Pulp of mango, tangerine, avocado, butternut squash, and pumpkin;
the green part of okra, chard, collard greens

Regulates gene transcription, protects against lung and prostate cancer, good for eye health

β-carotene

Red pepper, carrot, spinach, peaches, brussel sprout, grapefruit, sour cherries, papaya, mango, romaine lettuce

Green parts of plants, flowers, roots, and stems of plants;
pulp of mango, grapefruit, papaya, etc.

Enhancement of gap junction communication, enhances immunity

Lutein

Asparagus, spinach, kale, green beans, orange pepper, lettuce, broccoli, parsley, pistachio nuts

Leaves of spinach, lettuce, parsley; flower part of broccoli; essential oil of pepper; middle lamella of nuts

Improves immunity, good for eye health

Lycopene

Tomato, sweet potato, pink grapefruit, pink guava, watermelon, apricot, papaya, rosehip

Skin and pulp of tomato, grapefruit, watermelon, apricot, guava

Improves eyesight, reduces pain, and strengthens bones

Xanthophylls

Pumpkin, papaya, pepper, mushroom

Young leaves of papaya, pumpkin;
essential oil of pepper

Antioxidant properties, boosts eye health and blood flow

Cryptoxanthin

Apricot, papaya, peach, cashew apples, sea buckthorn, mandarin, tangerine, lemon

Skin and pulp of cashew apple and citrus fruits

Maintains pulmonary health, prevents arthritis and inflammation; improves immune response

Fucoxanthin

Brown seaweeds, Bacillariophyta, Chromophyta, Macroalgae, Microalgae

Chloroplasts of brown seaweeds

Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, anti cancerous, antidiabetic, antiobesity and radioprotective properties

Note: Adapted from: Kumar A, P N, Kumar M, Jose A, Tomer V, Oz E, Proestos C, Zeng M, Elobeid T, K S, Oz F. Major Phytochemicals: Recent Advances in Health Benefits and Extraction Method. Molecules. 2023 Jan 16;28(2):887. doi: 10.3390/molecules28020887. PMID: 36677944; PMCID: PMC9862941.

Sources:
Higdon, J., Drake, V. J., Delage, B., Johnson, E. J., & Mayer, J. (2016, August 1). Cartenoids. Linus Pauling Institute. Retrieved September 7, 2023, from https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/carotenoids#:~:text=Carotenoids%20are%20a%20class%20of,found%20in%20the%20human%20diet.
Black, H. S., Boehm, F., Edge, R., & Truscott, T. G. (2020, March 23). The Benefits and Risks of Certain Dietary Carotenoids that Exhibit both Anti- and Pro-Oxidative Mechanisms—A Comprehensive Review. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved September 7, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7139534/#:~:text=Carotenoid%20pigments%2C%20particularly%20%CE%B2%2Dcarotene,reduce%20the%20risk%20of%20cancer.
Kumar A, P N, Kumar M, Jose A, Tomer V, Oz E, Proestos C, Zeng M, Elobeid T, K S, Oz F. Major Phytochemicals: Recent Advances in Health Benefits and Extraction Method. Molecules. 2023 Jan 16;28(2):887. doi: 10.3390/molecules28020887. PMID: 36677944; PMCID: PMC9862941.