10 Foods That Are High in Beta-Carotene
When we think of foods that are high in beta-carotene, we typically think of carrots. But are there also many other good dietary sources of this vital nutrient. In fact, when it comes to whole foods that are rich in beta-carotene, carrots are actually not even in the Top 3: weight for weight, sweet potatoes, grape leaves and some microgreens beat carrots in terms of beta-carotene content. To learn more about these top sources of beta-carotene, as well as other vegetables, herbs and fruits that contain significant amounts of this powerful carotenoid, keep reading.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, any references to the amounts of nutrients in the below-listed foods are based on data obtained from the USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (Release 27).
10 Top-Notch Dietary Sources of Beta-Carotene
1. Sweet Potatoes
Up to 226 mcg of beta-carotene per 1 g
If you expected to see carrots top this list of the best dietary sources of beta-carotene, get ready for a surprise: sweet potatoes beat carrots in terms of beta-carotene content! That is, as long as you go for the variety with dark orange flesh. In a study published in the journal Food Chemistry, sweet potatoes with intense orange flesh were found to contain up to 226 micrograms of beta-carotene per one gram (on a fresh weight basis). In varieties with lighter orange flesh, however, the amount of beta-carotene was significantly lower, ranging from 11.8 mcg/g to 29.8 mcg/g.
2. Grape Leaves
161 mcg of beta-carotene per 1 g
Did you know that grape leaves are both edible nutritious? That's right. Whether freshly plucked from grapevines or canned, grape leaves can supply your body with a wide range of nutrients, including beta-carotene. According to USDA data, eating 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of raw grape leaves will provide you with a whopping 16.1 milligrams of beta-carotene.
Up to 121 mcg of beta-carotene per 1 g
In recent years, microgreens – the young seedlings of vegetables and herbs that are harvested and eaten when they are just a few inches tall – have become popular among chefs and foodies because they make an attractive garnish on salads and soups. But these miniature greens are not just pretty, they are also loaded with nutrients such as beta-carotene. In fact, some microgreens – such as red sorrel, cilantro, red cabbage, green basil, garnet amaranth and wasabi microgreens – have been shown to contain even more beta-carotene than raw carrots. To learn more, check out the article on the beta-carotene content of microgreens.
83 mcg of beta-carotene per 1 g
Carrots are one of the most famous whole food sources of beta-carotene, and indeed, they do contain a lot of this vital nutrient. A 100-gram serving (about 3.5 ounces) of raw carrots, for example, provides about 8285 micrograms of beta-carotene. To improve the bioavailability of beta-carotene from carrots, consider cooking the vegetables. A study that appeared in the December 2003 issue of the European Journal of Nutrition found that people absorbed significantly more beta-carotene from meals that contained cooked, pureed carrots than from meals that contained raw chopped carrots. In another study, published in the May 1998 issue of The Journal of Nutrition, women who ate cooked carrots absorbed three times as much beta-carotene as women who ate the vegetables raw.
5. Moringa Leaves
About 67 mcg per 1 gram (or even more)
For those who are not familiar with the fourth food on our list of the best dietary sources of beta-carotene, moringa is a nutrient-packed superfood that has been used in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, for centuries. In Western countries, it is today available at many health food stores in the form freeze-dried moringa leaf powder. In addition to containing tons of iron, vitamin C, potassium, calcium and protein, moringa is also high in carotenoids such as beta-carotene. In fact, some people have even claimed that moringa leaves contain more beta-carotene than carrots; however, more conservative estimates suggest that the beta-carotene content of moringa is somewhere around 6700 micrograms per 1 gram of fresh moringa leaves.
59 mcg per 1 gram
In kale, the orange plant pigment we know as beta-carotene is masked by the presence of the green chlorophyll, so it may come as a surprise that also this green super food contains a lot of beta-carotene. Just 100 grams of raw kale delivers a whopping 5.9 milligrams of beta-carotene, which corresponds to about 70% of the amount of beta-carotene found in a 100-gram serving of raw carrots (for details, check out the in-depth article on the beta-carotene content of kale). When fresh kale is out of season, look for organic kale powder in health food stores. When kale leaves are dried and made into powder, the water content of the leaves is drastically reduced, which makes kale powder an extremely concentrated source nutrients like beta-carotene.
59 mcg per 1 gram
Not all foods that are high in beta-carotene can be found in your local supermarket or health food store. Dandelion greens, for example, are a prime example of a nutritious, carotenoid-rich food that you won't be able to find in grocery stores (and yes, dandelion greens are edible, provided you pick them from places that haven't been sprayed with chemicals!). A 100-gram serving of raw dandelion leaves contains about 5.9 milligrams of beta-carotene, which makes them as good a source of beta-carotene as kale. To learn more, check out the in-depth article on the carotenoid content of dandelion greens.
56 mcg per 1 gram
A 100-gram serving of raw spinach provides roughly 5.6 milligrams of beta-carotene. To help your body absorb a good share of that amount, consider mincing or liquefying your spinach leaves. A study published in the February 1999 issue of The Journal of Nutrition found that the beta-carotene in spinach is more bioavailable if the spinach is minced or liquefied before consumption. Now that sounds like a pretty good reason to get one of those masticating juicers designed for leafy greens, or to add some fresh baby spinach into the blender next time you are making a smoothie!
9. Romaine Lettuce
52 mcg per 1 gram
Skip bland and nutrient-poor lettuces like iceberg in favor of healthier lettuce varieties, like romaine. Romaine is loaded with a wide range of nutrients, including beta-carotene, vitamin K, folate and vitamin C. To reap the nutritional and health benefits of romaine, use it in salads, or incorporate it into green smoothies. Thanks to its sturdy leaves, romaine can also be used in stir-fries – just be careful not to overcook it (a few minutes in a flat-bottomed wok is enough).
10. Fresh Parsley
51 mcg per 1 gram
When it comes to herbs that pack a beta-carotene punch, it is hard to beat parsley. Hundred grams of fresh parsley contains about 5.1 milligrams of beta-carotene, which is more than half of the beta-carotene in 100 grams of carrots. However, most recipes that use parsley only call for a small amount of this leafy herb, so you'll definitely want to keep eating other beta-carotene rich foods as well to get your daily dose of carotenoids.
Other Vegetables and Fruits Rich in Beta-Carotene
The above-listed vegetables and herbs may top the list of the best whole food sources of beta-carotene, but there are also a number of other vegetables and some fruits that contain significant amounts of beta-carotene and that you should consider incorporating into your diet. Mustard greens, turnip greens and collards, for example, provide tons of beta-carotene, as do garden cress, apricots and cantaloupe melons.
Don't Miss ThisSpiralizer - The Gadget That Turns Vegetables into "Noodles"
Learn all about this clever little machine that turns veggies into grain-free veggie "noodles".