The bright orange color of a pumpkin comes from beta-carotene, an important antioxidant. Antioxidants help protect the body from damaging free radicals. The body converts beta-carotene into active vitamin A. Current research also shows that a diet rich in beta-carotene foods can help enhance the function of your immune system, may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and may offer protection from heart disease.
Think bright orange and dark green for foods that are rich in beta-carotene: carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, spinach, kale, broccoli, turnip greens and collard greens. These foods should be eaten raw or lightly cooked since prolonged cooking decreases the availability of beta-carotene.
Currently there are no recommended dietary intake levels for beta-carotene. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults eat 1 to 2 cups per week of dark green vegetables and 4 to 6 cups per week of orange vegetables. Can you eat too much beta-carotene? Well, you would know if the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet have a yellowish tint. This is called carotenodermia and is harmless. Eating less of these will foods will return skin color to normal. Even though beta carotene is relatively safe, taking high dosages from supplements is not advised.
Vicki Bovee, MS, RDN, LD