Your parents knew what they were talking about
when they told you to eat your vegetables, though they probably
should have specified which ones.
A new study has found that
rich in orange and dark green veggies like carrots, green beans and
sweet potatoes may result in less disease and a longer life.
Researchers believe that the potential for a longer, disease-free
life is due to the alpha-carotene in those foods, which, like
beta-carotene, is a carotenoid antioxidant and may stop oxidative
damage to cells and DNA.
"Because of the multiple constituents within these vegetables, there
is a plethora of benefits of getting them in the natural food forms
and eating plenty of them," nutritionist Douglas Husbands told AOL
Health. "That should be one of the foundations of people if they
want to live a healthy and long life."
Dark green vegetables like beans, spinach, kale, bok choy, swiss
chard and collard greens are rich in folates and many other
essential nutrients, Husbands said -- and eating them doesn't only
boost your own health but that of future generations.
"They work to turn on many good genes and turn off many bad genes,"
he said. "Studies are continuing to show that dark green vegetables
most definitely can influence a healthier life and potentially a
longer life also. The research on this is just overwhelming."
Dr. Chaoyang Li of the
Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and his colleagues based
their findings on the previously-established link between good
health -- including less
-- and eating certain fruits and vegetables.
told Reuters Health
that his team wanted to find out specifically what components in
vegetables have benefits and how they work. Recent studies have
suggested that beta-carotene pills have no concrete positive
effects, he said.
The researchers looked at data on more than 15,000 people
participating in a wide-scale national nutrition survey. The
subjects had given blood samples, as well as information on their
histories and lifestyles at the start of the 14-year study.
By the end of the study period, almost 4,000 participants had died.
Li and his colleagues determined that the more alpha-carotene the
subjects had in their systems at the beginning of the survey, the
lower their chances of disease and death, Reuters reported. Those
with the highest amounts of the antioxidant in their blood had as
much as a 39 percent lower risk of dying than participants with the
lowest levels of alpha-carotene.
The findings, published this week in the
Archives of Internal Medicine,
stayed the same even after researchers took other risk factors into
account, including age and smoking. They also remained steady when
the rates of death due to
But the study results don't provide solid evidence that
alpha-carotene is what leads to a longer life and less disease,
according to the authors.
"Alpha-carotene may be at least partially responsible for the risk
reduction," Li told Reuters. "However, we are unable to rule out the
possible links of other antioxidants or other elements in vegetables
and fruits to lower mortality risk."
Husbands said it isn't just alpha-carotene
that is responsible for the health benefits seen in the research.
"You can't simplify it or (see) one carotenoid as a magic bullet
because you're going to get spurious results," he told AOL Health.
"It's the mix."
Howard Sesso of the Harvard School of Public Health said it's
difficult to differentiate between the benefits of alpha-carotene
and beta-carotene since carrots and some of the other vegetables in
question tend to contain both.
"Alpha-carotene has a lot of overlapping chemical properties with
beta-carotene, as well as the same perceived mechanisms of effect,"
he told Reuters Health. "It's hard to disentangle the two from each
other. They tend to travel together."
Li said there have been previous lab experiments showing that
alpha-carotene is a more potent preventer of brain, skin and
than its beta relative, according to Reuters.
No matter what is behind the findings, Sesso said they're hopeful.
"We don't know how this is going to translate into practice yet, but
it is encouraging," he said. "If nothing else, these results
reinforce the point that there is likely little downside to
increasing your fruit and veggie intake."
And there is little debate about the enormous health benefits of
vegetables, particularly the dark green and orange variety,
according to Husbands."That's some of the cheapest health care
people can buy," he said.
published in AOL.COM, 11/20/2010.