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Beta-Carotene for Your Overall Health

By Emily Ng

fuel stationMy good friend from middle school once told me, that when she was little, she would only eat carrots and her nose actually turned orange! I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe her; it sounded too funny to be true. Turns out, the story was true. So, what was it exactly that made her nose look like a carrot itself?  Beta-carotene. 

Beta-carotene is a pigment present in many fruits and vegetables that gives them their yellow or orange color. It’s part of a group called carotenoids, such as lycopene, lutein, and xeaxanthin. Carotenoids also act as antioxidants. Antioxidants are important in the diet because they protect from free radicals, which are substances that can cause harm in excess.

This powerful pigment is important because it can be converted to Vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for your eyes, immune system, cells and much more.

Real food is the way to go

Beta-carotene is important to our daily health so one would think supplements of beta-carotene would be beneficial, right? However, a meta-analysis (a review of many previous studies) conducted in 2007 of 68 trials and over 230,000 participants showed that supplementing beta-carotene is not beneficial and may increase mortality.

What exactly does this mean for us? It means that the best way to make sure you get enough beta-carotene is through the good ole fashioned way: real food in your diet.

Which foods have beta-carotene?

Beta-carotene can be found mainly in colorful fruits and veggies:

  • Carrots
  • Squash
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes

With Thanksgiving around the corner, beta-carotene will most likely be abundant on the table. However, remember that even though that pumpkin pie and sweet potato casserole may be bursting with antioxidants, it is also bursting with calories and sugar! It’s okay to enjoy the holidays and have a small portion, but look for your main sources of beta-carotene elsewhere.

Here is a link to one of my favorite recipes that you may or may not have tried before: carrot-raisin salad! It’s a great addition to traditional heavy Thanksgiving fares and the ingredient amounts can be adjusted to your liking. When my family makes it at home, we like to pre-boil the raisins so they are soft and use some of the pineapple juice to make it not so dry. I guarantee it will be a hit at your next potluck.

Emily Ng, RD, is a Registered Dietitian and recent graduate of the Coordinated Program in Dietetics at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently pursuing a career in sports dietetics and weight loss counseling. Emily enjoys running and playing volleyball, soccer, and flag football in her spare time. You can email Emily at

This article originally appeared on, founded by Olympic gold medalist Garrett Weber-Gale and his family, who believe that good taste and healthy food really can go together.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.