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Plasma carotenoids as biomarkers of intake of fruits and vegetables: ecological-level correlations in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)



The aim of this study was to assess the ability of a single 24-h dietary recall (24HDR) and food questionnaires (FQ) to predict plasma carotenoid levels at the ecological level by assessing the relationship between mean plasma carotenoid levels and mean intake of fruit and vegetables measured by 24HDR and FQ across 16 European regions.


A random subsample of 3089 subjects was included, stratified by age and gender. They provided blood samples and dietary information between 1992 and 2000 as part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.


Using Spearman's correlation coefficients, the correlations between mean regional 24HDR fruit and vegetable variables and corresponding mean plasma carotenoid levels were generally higher than the correlations using FQ means. The highest correlation was between the 24HDR citrus fruit variable and beta-cryptoxanthin (r=0.90). For 24HDR, total fruits and vegetables were highly correlated with lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin (r=0.83–0.87), while vegetables were more closely related with lutein (r=0.69) and zeaxanthin (r=0.68), and fruits correlated with zeaxanthin (r=0.87) and beta-cryptoxanthin (r=0.84). Root vegetables (r=0.81) and total carrots (r=0.71) were well correlated with alpha-carotene. In the multivariate models adjusting for age, body mass index, and season, and using observations of means stratified by sex and region, the association was generally higher for 24HDR compared to FQ.


Mean regional intakes of fruits and vegetables in several European countries were closely correlated with corresponding mean plasma levels of individual carotenoids. Fruits and vegetables measured by 24HDR were generally better able to predict plasma carotenoids at the ecological level.

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We acknowledge the work of Mathieu Mazuir in computer programming. The EPIC study was funded by the ‘Europe Against Cancer’ Programme of the European Commission (SANCO); Ligue contre le Cancer (France); Société 3M (France); Mutuelle Générale de l'Education Nationale; Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM); German Cancer Aid; German Cancer Research Centre; German Federal Ministry of Education and Research; Danish Cancer Society; Health Research Fund (FIS) of the Spanish Ministry of Health; the participating regional governments and institutions of Spain; Cancer Research UK; Medical Research Council, UK; the Stroke Association, UK; British Heart Foundation; Department of Health, UK; Food Standards Agency, UK; the Wellcome Trust, UK; Greek Ministry of Health; Greek Ministry of Education; Italian Association for Research on Cancer; Italian National Research Council; Dutch Ministry of Public Health, Welfare, and Sports; Dutch Ministry of Health; Dutch Prevention Funds; LK Research Funds; Dutch ZON (Zorg Onderzoek Nederland); World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF); Swedish Cancer Society; Swedish Scientific Council; Regional Government of Skane, Sweden; and Norwegian Cancer Society.

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Correspondence to E Riboli.

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Guarantor: E Riboli.

Contributors: ER is overall coordinator of the EPIC study, which he designed and implemented in collaboration with his team at IARC and the principal investigators in the collaborating centres. NS developed the 24-h recall system and the food consumption database in collaboration with the EPIC centres. WA, NS, PF and ER constituted the writing group in charge of conducting statistical data analyses and preparing the manuscript. ALvK and JPS were in charge of laboratory analyses of carotenoids in plasma samples. The other authors supervised the collection and analysis of dietary data and the collection of blood samples in the participating study centres, and provided comments and suggestions on the final manuscript.

None of the authors have any conflict of interest in carrying out this study.

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Al-Delaimy, W., Slimani, N., Ferrari, P. et al. Plasma carotenoids as biomarkers of intake of fruits and vegetables: ecological-level correlations in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Eur J Clin Nutr 59, 1397–1408 (2005).

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  • carotenoids
  • fruits and vegetables
  • plasma
  • ecology
  • food frequency questionnaires
  • 24-h dietary recall
  • EPIC

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