Carrots could do more than help you see in the dark according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Eating carrots and similar vegetables can help to fight off various diseases including heart disease and a variety of cancers.
Researchers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta suggest that eating orange vegetables such as carrots, winter squashes, pumpkins and sweet potato can significantly reduce the risk of death over a specific period, due to the high levels of carotenoids, such as alpha-carotene, that they contain. Green vegetables such as garden peas, broccoli and green beans may also help in the fight against cancer as they also have high levels of alpha-carotene, a potent antioxidant.
What Does the Study Show?
The study involved over 15,000 adults who took part in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Follow-Up Study. All over the age of 20, these participants had regular blood tests over a six year period between 1988 and 1994, and then took part in the follow-up study in 2006.
Around 3,800 of the participants in the study, almost a quarter, died before the follow-up study. Researchers discovered that the participants with higher blood levels of alpha-carotene, a substance found in carrots and similar vegetables, were significantly less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or cancer than those with low blood levels of alpha-carotene.
The researchers used a scale that categorized participants as having alpha-carotene concentrations from very low (0-1) to very high (more than 9). They compared the likelihood of participants dying from any cause depending on their alpha-carotene concentrations. Here’s what they found:
- Participants with concentrations of 2-3 were 23% less likely to die than those with 0-1
- Participants with concentrations of 4-5 were 27% less likely to die than those with 0-1
- Participants with concentrations of 6-8 were 34% less likely to die than those with 0-1
- Participants with concentrations of 9+ were 39% less likely to die than those with 0-1
How Vegetables Fight Disease
Many chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer are partially caused by oxygen related damage to DNA, protein and fats. Cartenoids, including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene, which are present in plants and a variety of vegetables, can work as antioxidants to correct this damage and prevent it developing into a chronic disease.
Looking specifically at cases of lung cancer, Dr Chaoyang Li, lead researcher, suggested that there are specific types of orange colored or dark green vegetables that have a noticeable impact on the risk of developing lung cancer because of their high alpha-carotene content. These included
- Sweet Potatoes
- Butternut Squash
- Green Peas and Beans
- Turnip Greens
The Health Benefits of Vegetables
Everyone should aim to eat five portions of fruit or vegetables each day. Fresh vegetables or freshly juiced vegetables are best, but frozen, canned and dried, vegetables are also effective. A single portion equals three heaped tablespoons of cooked vegetables, beans or pulses, or a single small glass of bottled or canned fruit or vegetable juice. A large glass of freshly juiced vegetables counts as several portions.
Here are five benefits of eating plenty of vegetables:
- They are a good source of Vitamin C, Iron, Magnesium and Potassium
- They help to maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity
- They are thought to combat a variety of cancers
- They reduce the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease
- They limit the risk of diabetes