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Dandelion Greens – An Unsung Source of Beta-Carotene

Beta-Carotene in Dandelion Greens

When we think of beta-carotene, we usually think of carrots and other orange vegetables and fruits. But this yellow-orange pigment is also abundant in a number of other plant-based foods, and some of them are not even orange! Dandelion greens, for example, are one of the best sources of beta-carotene (and yes, dandelion greens are edible, provided that they have not been exposed to pesticides, herbicides or pollution from traffic and exhaust fumes!). However, in dandelion greens, like in other green leafy vegetables, this yellow-orange pigment is masked by the presence of a green pigment known as chlorophyll.

Beta-Carotene Content of Fresh Dandelion Greens

So how much beta-carotene do fresh dandelion greens contain? According to nutrient data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 100-gram serving (about 3.5 ounces) of dandelion leaves delivers about 5854 micrograms of beta-carotene, which is equal to about 70% of the beta-carotene content of carrots. But it's not only the amount of beta-carotene that matters – if your body cannot break down the beta-carotene you get from your diet, this yellow-orange carotenoid will be of little use. In fact, there are a number of factors that influence the bioavailability of beta-carotene from foods like dandelion greens (bioavailability refers to the degree and rate at which your body absorbs a specific nutrient). In the following paragraphs, we provide some tips on how you can improve your body's uptake of beta-carotene from meals containing dandelion greens.

Eat Your Dandelion Greens with a Bit of Fat

Beta-carotene is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means your body needs some dietary fat to break it down. The good news is that you don't need much fat to reap the benefits: according to a study published in the March 2000 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, as little as 3 to 5 grams of fat per meal is enough to boost the carotenoid absorption from foods. So, for example, if you are using dandelion greens in a salad, all you need to do is dress your salad with a drizzle of oil.

Cooking, Chopping and Pureeing Also Improve Beta-Carotene Release

In uncooked vegetables, including raw dandelion greens, beta-carotene is embedded in a matrix with protein. If this matrix is not disrupted, the beta-carotene is not released and your body will only absorb a small percentage of the total amount of the beta-carotene present in your meal. Cooking helps disrupt the matrix, as do chopping and pureeing. A study published in the May 1998 issue of The Journal of Nutrition, for example, found that women who ate cooked carrots and spinach absorbed three times as much beta-carotene as women who ate raw carrots and spinach. In another study, published in the February 1999 issue of The Journal of Nutrition, beta-carotene in spinach leaves became bioavailable when the leaves were minced or liquefied before consumption.

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