Carotenoids are pigments that naturally occur in some vegetables and fruits. While there are 563 identified carotenoids, only about 10 percent can be converted into vitamin A in the body.
The most commonly consumed kinds of provitamin carotenoids—carotenoids that can be turned into vitamin A in the intestines—are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin. Of these, beta-carotene is most efficiently turned into vitamin A by the body.
Other carotenoids cannot be converted to vitamin A but are useful nonetheless. Some of these include lycopene, zeaxanthin and lutein. Zeaxanthin and lutein are vital to eye health. Lycopene is an antioxidant that may help prevent some cancers.
One study has shown that eating carotenoids along with some lipids, like vegetable or avocado oil, helps their absorption by the body.
How much you should have: While there are no FDA-recommended amounts of carotenoid intake, most nutritionists and doctors advise a varied diet of five to eight servings of carotenoid-rich foods daily. Supplements can also be taken, though the body more easily absorbs carotenoids from foods.