Bioavailability of Beta-Carotene in Carrots and Spinach

Carrots and spinach are rich sources of β-carotene. Beta-carotene is a plant pigment that is used in the photosynthetic process. As part of this role in plants, β-carotene is required to act as an electron acceptor during times of high light levels. The ability of β-carotene to accept electrons makes it an important antioxidant for plants. Beta-carotene is bioavailable in humans, and in humans it serves the same antioxidant role, preferring to accumulate in cell membranes because of its lipid soluble properties. The bioavailability of β-carotene from plants has been shown to be influenced by a number of factors including the location in the plant source, the presence of other influencing dietary components, as well as the type and extent of processing. With regard to the latter, cooking and pureeing carrots and spinach significantly increases the bioavailability of β-carotene because it breaks open the cells and this releases the β-carotene ready for absorption. Therefore processed sources of spinach and carrots offer enhanced bioavailability compared to unprocessed and raw forms of the vegetables. 

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Rock, C.L., Lovalvo, J.L., Emenhiser, C., Ruffin, M.T., Flatt, S.W. and Schwartz, S.J. 1998. Bioavailability of β-carotene is lower in raw than in processed carrots and spinach in women. The Journal of Nutrition. 128(5): 913-916

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Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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