Where it comes from: Beta-carotene is a carotenoid (a pigment that gives vegetables their color) and a precursor of vitamin A. Carrots, papayas, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, and dark green vegetables are a few vegetables that are high in carotenoids. Beta-carotene also comes in an synthetic oil-based or water-based supplement form.
What it’ll do for you: Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in the body. (In fact, Beta-carotene and other carotenoids provide about 50 percent of the body’s necessary vitamin A.) “Vitamin A is important for vision, cellular differentiation and the immune system,” begins Sarah Currie, RD and personal trainer for New York City-based Physical Equilibrium LLC. “Beta-carotene is also an antioxidant, which means it helps eliminate free radicals in the body, protecting lipids in the cell membrane to hopefully stop things like cancer and cardiovascular disease.” However, most studies find no proof that beta-carotene supplements can prevent cancer.
Suggested intake: Many authorities—including the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society—recommend getting beta-carotene and other antioxidants from food instead of supplements.
Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day provides 6-8 milligrams of beta-carotene.
Associated risks/scrutiny: Beta-carotene is possibly unsafe when taken in high doses, especially long-term. There is growing concern beta-carotene supplements can increase cancer risk, especially for smokers.
As toxic levels of vitamin A can be harmful, only those at risk for vitamin A deficiency should consider beta-carotene supplements. And it should always be under a doctor’s care.
There are little to no risks associated with vitamin A and beta-carotene from food sources.