Phytonutrients are natural compounds of all plant foods. They’re responsible for giving plant foods their distinct colours. Specific phytonutrients and their health benefits are associated with specific colours of foods.
Orange, red and yellow fruits and vegetables get their golden glow from a class of phytonutrients called carotenoids. And beta-carotene is probably the most well known. Leafy greens also contain carotenes – ever noticed your green veggies turn yellow as they age? It’s because of the carotenoids.
Carotenoids and female fertility
In female fertility, carotenoids play a role in follicular development. This is the process by which a follicle forms, proceeds through several growing stages, and develops to eventually release the mature egg cell. After ovulation the follicle turns into the corpus luteum, and releases progesterone.
Corpus luteum is Latin for ‘yellow body’, so named because it’s rich in carotenes. One study found the presence of up to 14 different carotenoids in ovarian tissue!
Carotenoids are very powerful natural antioxidants. They’re likely to play an important role in protecting egg cells from oxidative stress, as well as supporting the luteal phase.
What about male fertility?
Carotenoids play a role in sperm development. In studies, beta-carotene has been associated with improved sperm concentration.
What foods contain carotenoids?
Carotenoids can’t be made by the body, and so we get them from our diet. To increase your intake of carotenes, load up on these fruits and veggies:
- Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables:
- Bell peppers
- Ginger and turmeric root
- Pumpkin and squash
- Sweet potatoes
- Green leafy vegetables: Broccoli, kale and spinach.
- Free-range egg yolks: The predominant carotenoid in egg yolks is lutein.
Join the Recipe Hub for access to these carotene-rich recipes
- Carrot cake oats – this oat bowl offers a simple solution to getting carotenes in your diet at breakfast.
- Green goddess omelette (loaded with leafy greens)
- Spinach and goat’s cheese frittata (packed with carotenes from eggs and spinach)
- Sweet soup with chermoula-roasted chickpeas (pictured below).
- Sweet potato waffles
- Lemony sweet potato and lentil curry. This curry also contains spinach so you’ll get a double whammy of carotenes!
- Sweet potato wedges
…And lots more!
More articles to read
- Antioxidants and fertility
- Why herbs and spices belong in your fertility diet
- Five superfoods to supercharge your fertility
Did you know about the presence of carotene in the corpus luteum? Do you eat carotene-rich foods? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below, or post in The Fertility Kitchen Community.