The new nutritional recommendation these days is to “eat rainbow.”
When it comes to the yellow and red spectrum in that advice on nutrition, think carotenoids.
Carotenoids are one class of potent natural chemicals called phytonutrients. They are found in fruits and vegetables with yellow, orange and red pigments. As human food, they also convert to vitamin A in our bodies, serving as important antioxidants and aids in preventing many reactions that tend to cause aging in our bodies.
Web MD reports there are more than 600 carotenoids found in nature, but basically only six are actually found in the human body: alpha carotene, beta carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin.
Some examples of their important benefits include lycopene’s ability to lower the risk of prostate cancer in men. Lutein and zeaxanthin can help protect you from age related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Combinations of the carotenoids can also prevent night blindness, something the Royal Air Force knew during the Battle of Britain in World War II when it routinely gave carrot juice to its pilots, who did considerable night flying.
And because the carotenoids can be converted to Vitamin A, they are an important factor in a healthy immune system.
So, it is safe to say that any vegetable or fruit that expresses one of these colors is rich in the basic carotenoids.
I am particularly fond of the orange colored carotenoids, for if nature places them in egg yolks it seems reasonable that they must be important for the health and development of the new chick.
Now, let’s get practical.
How can we get these important carotenoids?
Carrots, pumpkin, squash, yams and tomatoes are rich in them. Of these, carrots are the most valuable.
Because the carotene is in the juice locked in with the fiber of the carrot, it must be released by one of two procedures, either by cooking the carrots or juicing them.
Since cooking may destroy some of the other nutrients, the most ideal other source is carrot juice.
Carotene is also found in spinach, kale and collards, although the color is not apparent because it is being masked by the deep green of these vegetables.
I’m particularly fond of carrot juice. If you can’t find it — or other healthful foods like hormone-free meat and milk — ask the store manager to stock it. They are in business to satisfy their customers, and if they see the potential for sales they will start to carry it. This is the reason why organic foods are now being carried by so many food groceries.
When I first got into healthful living, if you wanted carrot juice you made it yourself. This can be a tedious, time consuming process, so how lucky can we be that most supermarkets now sell pure carrot juice?
However, we do have a potential problem.
If you’ve been a reader of this column for any period of time, you’ll know that I prefer “natural” over “synthetic” in most food choices.
As it turns out, numerous studies have cast synthetic vitamin E and synthetic beta carotene in negative lights.
A study out of Finland, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that there was a higher incidence of lung cancer (18 percent) and total mortality (8 percent) in subjects receiving synthetic forms of these nutrients.
The report noted that the study agents were formulated as synthetic dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate (50 percent powder) and synthetic beta carotene (10 percent water-soluble beadlets), and all formulations were colored with quinoline yellow.
The reality is synthetic beta carotene is manufactured from benzene extracted from acetylene gas.
Benzene is a natural constituent of crude oil and one of the most basic petrochemicals.
Not only do these substances have no nutritional value, benzene is also considered a cancer-causing substance.
Is it any wonder that people taking laboratory-made forms of these nutrients have negative outcomes when we learn that they are formulated with petrochemicals, solvents and synthetic colors?
My advice, therefore, is always get your food and nutrients from natural sources.
Retired chiropractic doctor Francis Trapani’s background includes 41 years of practice plus doing investigative reporting and fitness programs for broadcast media in Hawaii. He has written three books and is working on a yoga self-help manual “The Doctor Prescribes Yoga.” For more information, go to drftrapani.com.