Carotenoids, widely distributed fat-soluble pigments, are responsible for the attractive colorations of several fruits and vegetables commonly present in our daily diet. They are particularly abundant in yellow-orange fruits (carrots, tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, among others) and, although masked by chlorophylls, in dark green leafy vegetables. Several health benefits have been attributed to carotenoids or to foods rich in these pigments, by means of different mechanisms-of-action, including the role as provitamin A of almost 50 different carotenoids and the antioxidant activity that protects cells and tissues from damage of free radicals and singlet oxygen, providing enhancement of the immune function, protection from sunburn reactions and delaying the onset of certain types of cancer. Common food sources and the efficiency of the absorption of carotenoids, analytical approaches used for measurement of their antioxidant effect and an overview of some epidemiological studies that have been performed to assess the beneficial impact of carotenoids in human health are outlined in this chapter.
Keywords: Antioxidant activity; Antioxidant capacity; Cancer markers; Carotenoid dietary source; Health benefits.