Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hey, Good Lookin'.....Better Have Some Veggies Cookin'!

Mmmmmmm. Carotenoids......

Medical News Today featured this story recently: Want To Look More Attractive? Eat Carrots and Plums.

Me! Me! I want to look more attractive! Geez, I really NEED to look more attractive....

The story discusses a study conducted by Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK and the Perception Lab, School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland, UK. It was published online by Evolution and Human Behavior on December 24th, 2010.

The focus of the study was to examine human perceptions of health based on carotenoid (orange-ish) and melanin (tan) tones in skin. Interesting. Readers of Reasonably Well know that I frequently lament my inability to tan, especially now that autoimmune related sun sensitivity is a problem. Well, view of this study's results, maybe it's time for me to quit obsessing with those tan-in-a-can products and start chomping carrots.

Here's what the study found:
" maximize apparent facial health, participants choose to increase empirically derived skin carotenoid coloration more than melanin coloration in the skin portions of color-calibrated face photographs. Together our studies link skin carotenoid coloration to both perceived health and healthy diet, establishing carotenoid coloration as a valid cue to human health which is perceptible in a way that is relevant to mate choice, as it is in bird and fish species."
In other words, people in the study perceived carotenoid skin coloration (or the orange-y color the a diet high in carotenoids provides) as appearing more healthy and attractive than the melanin (or tanned) skin appearance.

A food source that makes one appear more attractive? Carotenoids? What's a carotenoid? And where can I get some?

Carotenoids include naturally occurring sources of vitamin A, among other vitamins. Read this from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University:

Carotenoids are a class of more than 600 naturally occurring pigments synthesized by plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria. These richly colored molecules are the sources of the yellow, orange, and red colors of many plants (1). Fruits and vegetables provide most of the carotenoids in the human diet. Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin are the most common dietary carotenoids. Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin are provitamin A carotenoids, meaning they can be converted by the body to retinol (Figure 1). Lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin cannot be converted to retinol, so they have no vitamin A activity (Figure 2). Carotenoids can be broadly classified into two classes, carotenes (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene) and xanthophylls (beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin).
Food sources of carotenoids are found in some animal sources such as beef liver but also in all colored fruits and vegetables, such as bright orange carrots. Aside from providing a more attractive skin color, vitamin A has numerous other important functions in our bodies. You can read more about carotenoids and vitamin A in this excellent dietary supplement fact sheet provided by the National Institutes of Health:

Vitamin A: What is it?
Vitamin A is a group of compounds that play an important role in vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division, and cell differentiation (in which a cell becomes part of the brain, muscle, lungs, blood, or other specialized tissue.) [1-5]. Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system, which helps prevent or fight off infections by making white blood cells that destroy harmful bacteria and viruses [1,6-10]. Vitamin A also may help lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) fight infections more effectively.
Vitamin A promotes healthy surface linings of the eyes and the respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts [8]. When those linings break down, it becomes easier for bacteria to enter the body and cause infection. Vitamin A also helps the skin and mucous membranes function as a barrier to bacteria and viruses [9-11].
In general, there are two categories of vitamin A, depending on whether the food source is an animal or a plant.
Vitamin A found in foods that come from animals is called preformed vitamin A. It is absorbed in the form of retinol, one of the most usable (active) forms of vitamin A. Sources include liver, whole milk, and some fortified food products. Retinol can be made into retinal and retinoic acid (other active forms of vitamin A) in the body [1].
Vitamin A that is found in colorful fruits and vegetables is called provitamin A carotenoid. They can be made into retinol in the body. In the United States, approximately 26% of vitamin A consumed by men and 34% of vitamin A consumed by women is in the form of provitamin A carotenoids [1]. Common provitamin A carotenoids found in foods that come from plants are beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin [11]. Among these, beta-carotene is most efficiently made into retinol [1,13-15]. Alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin are also converted to vitamin A, but only half as efficiently as beta-carotene [1]...........Selected plant sources of vitamin A (from beta-carotene):
Food Vitamin A (IU)* %DV**
  • Carrot juice, canned, ½ cup 22,567 450
  • Carrots, boiled, ½ cup slices 13,418 270
  • Spinach, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 11,458 230
  • Kale, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 9,558 190
  • Carrots, 1 raw (7½ inches) 8,666 175
  • Vegetable soup, canned, chunky, ready-to-serve, 1 cup 5,820 115
  • Cantaloupe, 1 cup cubes 5,411 110
  • Spinach, raw, 1 cup 2,813 55
  • Apricots with skin, juice pack, ½ cup 2,063 40
  • Apricot nectar, canned, ½ cup 1,651 35
  • Papaya, 1 cup cubes 1,532 30
  • Mango, 1 cup sliced 1,262 25
  • Oatmeal, instant, fortified, plain, prepared with water, 1 cup 1,252 25
  • Peas, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 1,050 20
  • Tomato juice, canned, 6 ounces 819 15
  • Peaches, canned, juice pack, ½ cup halves or slices 473 10
  • Peach, 1 medium 319 6
  • Pepper, sweet, red, raw, 1 ring (3 inches diameter by ¼ inch thick) 313 6

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is good for you in so many other ways....but here's yet another reason to dive in to the veggie aisle in the grocery store. 

So go eat some carrots. You'll look fabulous, dahlingk. 


Unknown said...

You know its easy to overdose on beta carotene and cause liver cirrhosis, right ?

Please eat healthily, but do not overdo it. You can seriously injure your liver and kill yourself.

Julia Oleinik said...

Hi Tanmay - while it's true that you can overdose on beta carotene SUPPLEMENTS, it's very very rare that you can overdose on foods that contain Vitamin A and beta carotene. A healthy liver can handle hefty dietary sources of beta carotene.

Moderation in all things, including supplement use.

Anonymous said...

Wrong! Ingestion of betacarotene from natural sources ie fruit veg etc will supply you with pro vitamin A which the body only converts to vitamin A as needed.