Nature Wants To Protect You

Dear Health Conscious Reader,

I love peppers. Especially bell peppers. They’re so crunchy and sweet. I like to get mine at my local farmer’s market.

One of my favorite ways to eat them is roasted. I like to put a big red pepper in the oven and turn it every now and then until it’s soft. They’re delicious that way. Plus, you get to eat the skin where a lot of the nutrients are.

Which gets me thinking… do you know why brightly colored fruit and vegetables are so delicious? It’s because you’re supposed to eat them. Nature wants you to. It’s one of the ways we get our nutrients. Like vitamin A, for example.

Vitamin A is an “essential” vitamin because you can’t make it in your body. The only sources are animal products like meat, eggs and fish.

But your body pulls off a neat trick when it comes to fruit and vegetables. You can turn plant nutrients called carotenoids into vitamin A.

There are more than 600 carotenoids, and over 50 of them have vitamin A activity in your body. You’ve probably heard of an important one of these “provitamin A” carotenoids. It’s called beta-carotene.

But a less well-known source of vitamin A is alpha-carotene, which is just as important, if not more.

A recent study from the Archives of Internal Medicine followed over 15,000 people for nearly 20 years. And it found that those with the highest levels of alpha-carotene were 39 percent less likely to die from any cause than people with the lowest levels.1

The study also found that alpha-carotene protects you from cardiovascular disease and skin and liver cancer.

Scientists don’t know the reason for this, but your body does depend on its sources of vitamin A to keep running. Your eyes, muscles, immune system, lungs and kidneys all use vitamin A. And your liver stores vitamin A for your body to use as needed

One other thing the AIM study mentioned above showed is that a diet of processed foods delivered almost no alpha-carotene. That’s why it’s important to get carotenoids from natural sources.

But the best natural sources of alpha-carotene are:

1. Brightly colored vegetables. These include carrots, of course, but also squash, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Pumpkins are a great source of alpha-carotene, and peppers are loaded. One cup of either pimento or bell pepper has enough carotenoids to deliver over 5,000 IU of vitamin A. Also, bright green vegetables like green beans have alpha-carotene, too.

2. Orange and red-colored fruits. These include cranberries, apricots, cantaloupe and mango.

3. The spices paprika and red pepper have alpha-carotene in them, as do grape leaves.

4. Sacha Inchi nut oil is a rich source of provitamin A carotenoids, as well. A tablespoon of it can give you 350 mcg (about 1,200 IU) of vitamin A.

5. Also, keep in mind that you can get vitamin A itself (called retinol) from animal sources like calf liver, eggs and cod liver oil.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

1 Li, C., Ford, E.S., Zhao, G., et al, “Serum alpha-Carotene Concentrations and Risk of Death Among US Adults…” Arch. Intern. Med. Nov. 22, 2010