Sunday, November 14, 2010

Meatless Monday: Binging on Beta-Carotene

I’m hoping I won’t turn orange anytime soon. You see, I’ve been on a beta-carotene binge of late. I love brightly colored food, particularly winter squash and pumpkins, all rich in Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. The week before last will give you an idea of just how serious a binge I’m talking. Monday: Butternut Squash Lasagne (in Eataly, details of this adventure to appear in a future column). Tuesday: Sweet Potato Soup. Wednesday: Pumpkin Stew for lunch, steamed Curried Carrots for dinner. Thursday: Pumpkin Soup. Friday I took a break and ate pasta with red sauce and broccoli. Saturday: Pumpkin Pancakes in the morning, homemade Butternut Squash and White Bean Soup for dinner.  And what did I buy in the produce aisle? Golden beets and red kale, also rich in beta-carotene.

I know some of you think I’m kidding, but there really is a medical condition, Carotenodermia, a yellow discoloration of the skin resulting from high doses of beta-carotene supplements or the consumption of large amounts of carotene-rich foods. Tell-tale signs of the condition are an orange glow on the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet. Your eyes, however, remain white unlike jaundice when the eyes go yellow, too. The condition is reversible. The Linus Pauling Institute has a wealth of info on beta-carotene and other phyto-chemicals, and their site points out that high-doses of beta-carotene have never been found to cause vitamin A toxicity.  

Tomorrow just may be the day I achieve that orange glow. Last night I roasted a huge squash I had bought earlier in the season. It looked like a butternut at the base, but it had a long curly neck and easily weighed four pounds. I cut the neck at the base and carefully peeled it with my Oxo peeler, being careful not to slice my finger (unlike April in my new favorite holiday movie). I cut the base in half, scooped out the seeds and then peeled away the skin. I diced the squash into 1/2” cubes, tossed them with some olive oil and salt and then baked them in my two largest cast iron skillets at 350° until the pieces were tender (about 35 minutes). When they were done I had a generous helping over some basmati rice, sprinkled with curry powder and a few golden raisins, and topped with a dollop of lowfat Greek yogurt. 

Today I put a quart of pieces into the freezer, and used another quart in a recipe from Whole Foods called “Butternut Squash with Wilted Spinach and Blue Cheese.” Since it was a trial run for the upcoming holiday, I added a heaping 1/4 cup of organic dried cranberries to the dish when I was stirring everything together. The result was unbelievably delicious. I ate two bowlfuls straight up, not atop anything. You can put this recipe together in 15 minutes or so if the squash has been roasted ahead of time. I hope my sister lets me make this for Thanksgiving.  

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.


  1. Carotenemia is common in young toddlers. I see it especially in firstborn babies as parents are too nervous to feed them tablefoods. Commercial baby foods have lots of pureed orange vegetables. The kids also get orange cheeks and nose tips.
    And yes, Elaine can certainly bring that dish for Thanksgiving - her sister, the pediatrician

  2. Thanks for the medical info. Looking forward to Thanksgiving(and some more orange food.)