β-Carotene is a strongly-coloured red-orange pigment abundant in plants and fruits. Absorption of β-carotene is enhanced if eaten with fats, as carotenes are fat soluble. Carotene is the substance in carrots that colours them orange and is the most common form of carotene in plants. When used as a food colouring, it has the E number E160a.
Dietary sources of beta-carotene
β-Carotene contributes to the orange colour of many different fruits and vegetables. Vietnamese gac (Momordica cochinchinensis Spreng.) and crude palm oil are particularly rich sources, as are yellow and orange fruits, such as cantaloupe, mangoes and papayas, orange root vegetables such as carrots and yams and in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, sweet potato leaves, and sweet gourd leaves. Vietnamese gac and crude palm oil have the highest content of β-carotene of any known fruit or vegetable, 10 times higher than carrots, for example. However, gac is quite rare and unknown outside its native region of Southeast Asia, and crude palm oil is typically processed to remove the carotenoids before sale to improve the colour and clarity.
The average daily intake of β-carotene is in the range 2–7 mg, as estimated from a pooled analysis of 500,000 women living in the USA, Canada and some European countries.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists the following 10 foods to have the highest β-carotene content per serving.
|Item||Grams per serving||Serving size||Milligrams β-carotene per serving||Milligrams β-carotene per 100 g|
|Carrot juice, canned||236||1 cup||22.0||9.3|
|Pumpkin, canned, without salt||245||1 cup||17.0||6.9|
|Sweet potato, cooked, baked in skin, without salt||146||1 potato||16.8||11.5|
|Sweet potato, cooked, boiled, without skin||156||1 potato||14.7||9.4|
|Spinach, frozen, chopped or leaf, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt||190||1 cup||13.8||7.2|
|Carrots, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt||156||1 cup||13.0||8.3|
|Spinach, canned, drained||214||1 cup||12.6||5.9|
|Sweet potato, canned, vacuum pack||255||1 cup||12.2||4.8|
|Carrots, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt||146||1 cup||12.0||8.2|
|Collards, frozen, chopped, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt||170||1 cup||11.6||6.8|