Betalains were in fact first extracted from beets and their name is even based on the word beet. They are also found in most members of the Caryophyllales order. This is an order containing 33 families of flowering plants such as carnations,cacti, amaranths, and ice plants. Betalains are also found in some fungi. Betalains are used in red food dyes. Since they are known to act as free radical scavengers (particularly the betalain from the prickly pear) and have antioxidant properties, there is growing interest in recommending foods which contain them, as helpful in the avoidance and treatment of cancer.
Some people’s bodies are not able to break down betalains, so for those people, consuming them results in red urine,a condition known as beeturia and red feces.
Betalains come in two varieties:
Betacyanins which are the reddish to violet betalain pigments, and
Betaxanthins which are the yellow to orange betalain pigments.
The deep red dye of the Hopi Indians is an example of betacyanins, in this case it is full of those from the amaranth flower.
The reddish pigments found in most plants are not due to betalains but anthocyanins. Although both are water-soluble pigments they are not chemically alike (only betalains contain nitrogen) and so far have never both been found within the same plant.Betalains contain nitrogen but anthocyanins do not.
What are Betalains? Well now you know. If you are interested in adding items to your diet that will help prevent cancer by inhibiting the formation of free radicals, you should consider a food that contains betalains, such as beets or a vitamin or betalain
supplement that includes betalains as well as other antioxidants.