Quick, look at your hands! If you are on a severe FODMAP and/or gluten-free diet, you may find yourself resorting to vegetables that are high in beta-carotene, such as squash, sweet potatoes or carrots. And after a few weeks of squash and carrots you may find your skin beginning to turn the color of an oompa-loompa from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
This is because the substance that gives certain squash and carrots their distinctive color, beta-carotene, is for all practical purposes a very strong pigment.
And because beta-carotene is fat soluble, your body is much more efficient at absorbing it when you eat these vegetables along with a high fat diet. Thus, Paleo eaters and those whose dietary restrictions limit their victual variety can easily find themselves looking like an extra from Jersey Shore.
And so, if you look like you’ve had a cheap spray-on tan applied after just a few weeks of your new diet, should you worry?
Well, the answer may depend on how vain you are.
In terms of heath, you are pretty much in the clear. Now beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, which is one of the few vitamins that can actually be dangerous in very high doses. That is called hypervitaminosis A.
However, your body selectively converts beta-carotene, and so you are far more likely to catch a case of carotenodermia, which is the preferred doctor’s terminology for turning the color of a carrot. In fact, the more beta-carotene you eat, the less your body converts into vitamin A.
β-Carotene, a precursor form of vitamin A typical of vegetable sources such as carrots, is selectively converted into retinoids, so it does not cause hypervitaminosis A; however, overconsumption can cause carotenosis, a benign condition in which the skin turns orange.
So don’t worry about the squash, the carrots or the sweet potatoes in your diet. Just make sure you aren’t also taking massive doses of vitamin A along with them.
Therefore, β-carotene is a very safe source of vitamin A and high intakes will not lead to hypervitaminosis A.
Now an overdoes of vitamin A is extremely dangerous, however it almost exclusively occurs when unwitting consumers take too many vitamin supplements. It is very difficult to get from diet, unless you are in the habit of eating carnivores, such as polar bear or sled dog.
Don’t like sled dog liver? Well, then you probably have better things to worry about right now.