A new study published in the European Journal of Nutrition finds that an increased intake of carotenoids, powerful antioxidants found in plant-based foods, is associated with slower aging. The research tested 3,660 U.S. adults and measured blood levels of five common carotenoids: alphacarotene, beta-carotene, betacryptoxanthin, combined lutein/ zeaxanthin and trans-lycopene.
The researchers found that those with levels that were in the highest quarter had 5 percent to 8 percent longer telomeres compared to those with the lowest quartile of carotenoid levels. Telomeres are located at the ends of DNA chromosomes and get shorter as we age. Longer telomeres indicate greater longevity.
Carotenoids are found in the yellow-to-red pigments in many yellow, red and orange foods. They are also contained in green foods where chlorophyll shields the yellow-red color. Alpha-carotenes are present in carrots, cantaloupes, mangoes, kale, spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Betacarotene is found in some of the same foods, and also tomatoes, apricots and watermelons. Betacryptoxanthin is found in papayas, apples and orange peels. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in some of the same foods, along with kiwifruit, grapes, oranges, zucchini and squash. Some of the highest levels are in corn. Lycopene is in tomatoes, watermelons, papayas, apricots and other red-to-yellow foods.