All things carotenoids

Do you have a favourite fall treat?

I have a few. Purple grapes to start with. Not the table grapes but the kind that you make wine from. They come with many beautiful childhood memories, which I will one day tell you about.

The second one is oven roasted pumpkin, but not just any kind. It’s the deep orange one that become soft and flavourful when you bake it, with darkish, slightly caramelized edges that make for a perfect bite.

I could eat a whole tray which I did enough times to know that there’s discomfort to follow. But, of course, overeating is never a good idea, no matter how much you love the food.

However, a piece or two added to a bowl or eaten as dessert can really hit the spot. And if you’re not crazy about the taste, perhaps their high carotenoid content will convince you to have some.

And if you’re not crazy about the taste, perhaps their high beta-carotene content will convince you to have some. Beta-carotene serves as a precursor for the formation of vitamin A, and it is part of the big carotenoid family (over 1,000 members!).

Also, these foods go well with a range of anti-inflammatory spices such as cinnamon, ginger, curry, turmeric, cumin, and cloves, so there’s an extra argument to get some.

Not to mention that the fibre and polyphenol content will also keep your gut bugs well fed and happy. It’s a win-win-win no matter what.

Here’s why you’d want some more carotenoids

Make soup or pie (use half the sugar and kick up the spices!), and then go for the rest of the orange, red and yellow carotenoid-rich fall bounty: bell peppers, squashes, calendula and nasturtium flowers (yes, really!), sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Oh, and corn too.  

The lycopene in tomatoes is best absorbed when the tomatoes are cooked. However, fresh is great too if you drizzle some olive oil over perfectly ripe tomatoes and sprinkle on some sea salt. Whether cooked or fresh, don’t get rid of the skin. That’s where most of the lycopene is found.

Greens such as kale, spinach and turnip greens contain large amounts of carotenoids too, but they are nicely hidden behind those green pigments.

Carotenoids are also found in animal foods such as eggs, seafood and dairy as readily available vitamin A. If you enjoy eggs and want to have a few, go ahead (up to 4 per week is what research points to as the upper limit). As for seafood, I am reluctant to recommend any given the sorry state of our oceans due to pollution and overfishing. Asthaxanthin, for example, is a carotenoid that is found in krill, which normally serves as food for whales. It’s been scooped up by the tonne as we speak, and that means scarcity for our fellow marine mammals, hence my reluctance.

As for dairy products, opt for local, grass-fed. It’s always the better option.

Oh, the possibilities!

  • Orange soup made with red peppers, sweet potatoes, and carrots. It can be as simple as this: saute an onion and a few cloves of garlic in a little bit of olive oil, add spices such as cumin, coriander and mild curry, then throw in diced carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers, add water or veggie stock, and cook in a slow cooker for a couple of hours until everything is soft, or on the stove. Salt and pepper to taste. Blend and serve with whole grain sourdough bread. Add-ons are optional but yummy: cooked white beans, chopped spinach, hemp or pumpkin seeds. The sky’s the limit!
  • Chocolate mousse made with three ingredients: cooked sweet potato (3 cups), cocoa powder (1/2 cup), pinch of salt, vanilla extract (1tbsp), and if you wish, coconut or whipping cream (1/4 cup) for extra creaminess. Whip and chill for at least an hour.
  • Roasted pumpkin pieces which you can refrigerate and have ready to add to a bowl made with grains, beans, greens, and other yummy ingredients. Also, you can freeze some and use later.
  • The same roasted pumpkin pieces can be added to any soup for extra creaminess and carotenoids.
  • The same roasted pumpkin or cooked potato can be used to make pie or brownies (I just pulled the latter ones out of the oven). Here’s how I did it and it was a first try, but I share it anyway. Feel free to tweak amounts and ingredients as you see fit:
    • Ingredients: cooked and cooled sweet potato (2 cups), vanilla (2 tbsp), ground chia seeds (2 tbsp), salt (1/2 tsp), baking soda (1/2 tsp), cinnamon (1tbsp), cloves (1tsp), melted dark chocolate (100g), almond butter (1/2 cup), cacao (2/3 cup) and rolled oats (1 plus ¼ cup).
    • Method: Mix well and add water to thin out. I added almost 2/3 cup of water. Crushed walnuts on top and bake at 400F for 20 – 25 minutes.

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