Carotenoids and gut health–a match made in heaven

Man chopping kale

Hi, I’m Kristin, Jetson partner and registered dietitian. Have you ever noticed that fall is often filled with orange, yellow, red, and dark green-colored foods? The beautiful colors attributed to these foods come from something called carotenoids.

What are carotenoids? 

Carotenoids are a class of pigments that provide color to orange, yellow, red, and green foods. Foods high in carotenoids include fall favorites such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, and squashes. You can also find carotenoids in kale, broccoli, tomatoes, and spinach. 

There are hundreds of different carotenoids that function as antioxidants in the body. The most common are beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids are fat soluble, meaning they are absorbed best in the presence of fat.

What’s the benefit of getting carotenoid-rich foods in your diet?

Carotenoid consumption has been associated with multiple health benefits. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that having a high intake of beta carotene (a type of carotenoid) was associated with a lower risk of dying. Other studies have linked carotenoid intake to a reduced risk of ALS, Alzheimer’s dementia, and age-related vision loss. Carotenoids have even been associated with more glowing skin and enhanced immunity.

How do you get the most out of carotenoid-rich foods?

Carotenoids have many benefits to the body, but how much benefit you may get depends on how bioavailable the compounds are after prepping and cooking. Bioavailability is the proportion of food that is digested and absorbed for use in the body. Studies show that the presence of fat may enhance carotenoid bioavailability. For example, a 2015 study showed that adding eggs to salads helped improve carotenoid absorption. Adding heat to cooking, such as steaming and boiling, may also help enhance maximum nutrient density. 

How do carotenoids support gut health and immunity?

Studies show a bi-directional relationship between the microbiome and carotenoid intake. Your gut has a direct relationship with your ability to get the most from carotenoid-rich foods, and carotene-rich foods (which are also often rich in fiber) may also benefit the microbiome. Carotenoids have also been associated with a potential increase in mucosal and gut barrier health, promoting tighter gut junctions. Though more research is needed, including more carotenoids in the diet appears to benefit overall health.

Carotenoid-rich foods are great for giving us nutrition and fostering better gut health, but many individuals need to catch up when meeting the recommended daily servings. That’s why probiotics are a great compliment. A 2022 study found that adding probiotics could enhance the benefits of carotenoids. Jetson Digest is my go-to for immune-boosting benefits to pair with my nutrition. I love my carotenoids, but supplementing with a probiotic can help reach their benefit even more. 

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