Beta-carotene is a type of pigment found in plants. It gives yellow and orange fruits and vegetables their rich hue. The name beta-carotene is derived from the Latin name for ‘carrot’.

Among the carotenoids that can be converted to vitamin A in the human body, so-called ‘provitamin A carotenoids’, beta-carotene is the most abundant and most efficient one found in foods.

Currently available evidence suggests that in addition to being a source of vitamin A, beta-carotene plays many important biological roles that may be independent of its provitamin A status.

Health functions

Beta-carotene is the main safe dietary source of vitamin A, essential for normal growth and development, immune system function, and vision (1).

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Things to know about Beta-carotene

  • Other applications

    A major clinical trial, the Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS1), found that patients with age-related macular degeneration could slow its progression by taking beta-carotene (15 mg), vitamin C (500 mg), vitamin E (400 mg), zinc (80 mg), and copper (2 mg) (37).

  • Intake recommendations

    The European Food Safety Authority (39) and the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board (1) have decided that the existing evidence is insufficient to establish a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) or adequate intake (AI) for beta-carotene and other carotenoids.

  • Supply situation

    The amount of beta-carotene intake varies widely and is not normally distributed in the population. The majority of people in developed countries consume in the range of 1–2 mg per day, which is below the recommended intake.

  • Deficiency

    In populations that consume low amounts of vitamin A, which is mostly found in animal products such as liver, a sufficient intake of beta-carotene, as provitamin A carotenoid, is essential in preventing vitamin A deficiency (1).

  • Sources

    Orange and yellow vegetables like carrots, pumpkin, potato, and winter squash are rich sources of beta-carotene. Spinach is also a rich source of beta-carotene, although the chlorophyll in spinach leaves hides the yellow-orange pigment.

  • Safety

    While high doses of vitamin A can be toxic, the use of beta-carotene as a source of vitamin A is safe. The conversion of beta-carotene ─ also called ‘provitamin A’ ─ to vitamin A is influenced by the vitamin A status of the individual (50).

  • References

    Consult the full list of scientific references.