Carotenoid Colour Wheel of Health

Many of the plants we eat can thank carotenoids for their hue. Carotenoids are the pigments that create those beautiful colours. Tomatoes are red because of lycopene, the yellow in corn comes from zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene tints carrots orange.

Carotenoids are divided into two groups: xanthophylls, which contain oxygen; and carotenes, which contain hydrocarbons, but no oxygen. Lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin are xanthophylls; while carotenes include beta-carotene, lycopene and alpha-carotene.

The more than 600 different caroteniods support the process of photosynthesis along with chlorophyll, and are made by plants to protect themselves from environmental stress. This includes absorbing blue light to protect against sun damage. Considered antioxidants, carotenoids neutralize reactive oxygen species known as free radicals.