Getting enough beta carotene in your diet is easier than you might think, and it doesn't even require swallowing countless pills or eating foods that have been fortified with the compound.
What is beta carotene and why is it important? A discussion of beta carotene will ultimately end up as a primer on Vitamin A because beta carotene is one of four compounds--carotenoids--which serve as precursors to Vitamin A in the diet.
They are dark red crystalline compounds that give the deep yellow coloration to plants and are the fundamental starting point for Vitamin A production in the body. Dark green plants are also rich in carotenoids but their color is masked by chlorophyll.
In other words, beta carotene is important for the manufacturing of Vitamin A, and Vitamin A is important for strong cells and muscles in the body.
This is how it works. Carotenoids are synthesized by plants, which in turn are eaten by animals or humans and are converted into Vitamin A in the intestines or in other tissues such as the liver or kidneys.
Among other purposes, Vitamin A is important for cell and tissue development. Thus, diets lacking in beta carotene ultimately result in cells and tissues that are more susceptible to infections--among which cancer ranks highly.
A Recommended Daily Allowance for beta carotene has not been widely available. Instead, it is expressed in terms of the body's need for Vitamin A, for which the RDA for males 10 and older is 5,000 International Units and for females 10 and older 4,000 IU. The allowance for children between the ages of 6 months and 10 years is 1,000 IU.
Green leafy vegetables like spinach, turnip and beet greens, kale and chard; green stem vegetables like asparagus and broccoli; and yellow fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, apricots, peaches and cantaloupe are excellent sources of Vitamin A.
Goals Easy to Reach
During the plentiful summer season, out of hand eating of fresh fruits and preparing cool summer salads makes it easy to accomplish these goals. Three average size apricots contain about 2,890 IU of Vitamin A; one small stalk of broccoli, boiled, contains about 3,500 IU, and one raw carrot contains 7,930 IU.
Adding foods like these makes it simple to meet the RDA for Vitamin A and therefore improve the level of beta carotene in our diets. (Some epidemiologic studies have shown that high intakes of these foods are associated with decreased cancer risk.)
Since salads are the food of the season, here are a few recipes that will boost your family's intake of beta carotene.
CHICKEN IN CARROT NEST SALAD
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sliced green onions
Dash black pepper
1/2 cup diced cooked chicken
1 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
Combine olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, green onions and pepper in small bowl. Add chicken and toss to mix. Arrange carrots around edge ofsalad plate. Spoon chicken mixture in center and garnish with peas. Makes 2 servings.
PER SERVING: 165 calories; 13 gm protein; 10 gm carbohydrate; 8 gm fat; 731 mg sodium; 401 mg potassium.
Protein 20% Riboflavin 06% Vitamin A 125% Niacin 24% Vitamin C 15% Calcium 04% Thiamine 07% Iron 10%
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 lettuce leaves
1 cup shredded zucchini
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded beets
3/4 cup raisins
Combine olive oil, lemon juice, basil and pepper in jar. Shake well to mix. Arrange lettuce leaves on serving plates. Arrange shredded zucchini, carrots and beets evenly among plates and top with raisins. Drizzle with dressing. Makes 4 servings.
PER SERVING: 335 calories; 2 gm protein; 30 gm carbohydrate; 27 gm fat; 32 mg sodium; 479 mg potassium.
Protein 03% Riboflavin 05% Vitamin A 66% Niacin 04% Vitamin C 28% Calcium 04% Thiamine 05% Iron 09%