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Carotene is a general name for biochemical compounds that play an important role in photosynthesis, and it has two well-known forms: alpha carotene and beta carotene. It can only be synthesized by plants. Other forms of carotene include delta, epsilon, gamma and zeta. These forms are all made up of hydrogen and carbon molecules, and are therefore called hydrocarbons. They do not contain oxygen, and this makes them hydrophobic, which means they “dislike” water. Therefore, all forms of carotene are insoluble in water, but soluble in fat.

Three carotene: alpha, beta and gamma, are also called pro-vitamins, because your body can process and turn them into vitamin A.

Alpha carotene and beta carotene differ in the position of double bonds in their ring structures. Alpha carotene is less common than beta carotene. In fact, when a fruit or vegetable appears more orange, it has more beta carotene than alpha carotene.

Both alpha carotene and beta carotene can be converted into vitamin A by the body. Vitamin A, also called retinol, is important for maintenance of visual acuity. According to research, intake of 1 microgram beta carotene dissolved in oil is equivalent to 0.5 microgram retinol, 1 microgram beta carotene from the diet is equivalent to 0.083 microgram retinol and 1 microgram alpha carotene from the diet is equivalent to 0.042 microgram retinol. Alternatively, these can be expressed in retinol activity equivalent (RAE).

Alpha carotene is found in different vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, tomatoes, cilantro, green beans, in dark green vegetables like spinach, peas, broccoli, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, and fruits such as apricots, apples, avocados and cantaloupes.

Studies show that alpha carotene has the power to reduce one’s mortality risk from disease by more than one-third. That’s the kind of life insurance that makes sense to stock up on!

A new 14- year study showed that people with the highest blood levels of alpha carotene experienced a 39% lower risk of dying from any disease, including heart disease and cancer.

As mentioned before, our bodies can convert alpha carotene into vitamin A for the maintenance of healthy skin and bones, improved vision and a robust immune system.

As an antioxidant (an enzyme that fights disease by stopping the oxidization or break-down of cells caused by free-radicals) alpha carotene is considered superior. It is so powerful that it removes destructive free-radicals from the body before they can cause the tissue damage that can lead to chronic diseases like heart diseases and cancer.

In addition, alpha carotene may help prevent cancer by stimulating cell-to-cell communication, a process which appears necessary for proper cell division.

Antioxidants supplements typically don’t contain alpha carotene, so it is especially important to satisfy your needs for this nutrient with a vegetable-filled diet.

Tip: you should eat these foods in the presence of dietary fat, because they are fat soluble and are absorbed better with fat. If you are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as cholestyramine, your absorption of carotene may become impaired. Therefore, avoid taking these drugs together with eating carotene-rich foods.