And, alas, other studies show that we tend to fall short in our consumption of the deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables that are especially rich in the carotenoids alpha- and beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Along with protecting our skin, these antioxidant pigments boost eye health and protect the linings of our respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts.
Excellent carotene/vitamin A sources include sweet potatoes (one medium baked sweet potato contains 1,096 micrograms of vitamin A), carrots (671 mcg per ½ cooked cup), spinach (573 mcg per ½ cup), kale (478 mcg per ½ cup), and winter squash (268 mcg per ½ cup). What’s more, it’s best to cook these vegetables, as cooking boosts their vitamin A content, compared with eating them raw. It’s also good to include a little fat along with them, as this increases your absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids. Tasty fat sources that work well include olive oil, nuts, even butter or bacon.
Look great and boost your health at the same time? It's easy, with these fabulous carotene-rich dishes from the Rodale Recipe Finder.
#1: Rosemary-Rubbed Sweet Potatoes. The piney herb rosemary pairs wonderfully with sweet potatoes, but also with russets and red-skinned potatoes. Or, for a mouthwatering main dish, try Roasted Fish with Cumin Sweet Potatoes
#2: Pomegranate-Glazed Carrots. For a unique, seasonal side, try these carrots glazed with orange and pomegranate juice. Alternatively, horseradish gives this carrot casserole a zesty kick.
#3: Sautéed Spinach and Pine Nuts. The vegetable dish that cooks the fastest? Sautéed spinach, hands down, and it’s perfect with pine nuts. Or, for a delicious spinach entrée, try Wilted Spinach-Bacon Salad with Bow Ties.
#4: Braised Kale with Smoked Nuts. Add a smoky accent to kale recipes by adding chopped almonds, or pairing it with crispy bacon.
#5: Maple Squash with Cardamom. Baked cubes of butternut squash in this delicious winter side dish are both savory and sweet. For a main dish that's positively bursting with carotenes, stir up a Butternut Squash, Kale, and Tomato Stew.