For maximum health benefits, pick your veggies wisely
Alpha-carotene belongs to the carotenoid family, a group of yellow, orange and red pigments produced by plants. As potent antioxidants, carotenoids counteract free-radical damage (free-radical damage to DNA, can lead cancer). Other carotenoids include beta-carotene (found in carrots and sweet potato), lycopene (in tomatoes) and lutein (in spinach and kale).
Research published online last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, has found that higher alpha-carotene blood levels were associated with a lower risk of dying from cancer and cardiovascular disease. The protective effect of alpha-carotene on the risk of death was particularly strong for cancers of the upper digestive tract (esophagus, larynx, pharynx), type 2 diabetes and chronic lower respiratory disease.
Whereas standard advice was always to eat 5 portions of fruit and veg each day, this advice has been increased to 7-10 portions.
Choose orange and green
To consume more carotenoids, include one yellow-orange and one dark-green vegetable in your diet each day. Excellent sources of alpha-carotene include pumpkin, carrots, carrot juice, vegetable soup, and tangerines.
In addition to yellow-orange vegetables, you’ll find plenty of beta-carotene in spinach, kale, broccoli, red bell peppers, apricots and mangos.
How to hit your 7-10 daily target
It is not as hard as it sounds if you take the time to plan ahead.
- Try to include fruits and vegetables into all of your meals and snacks. At breakfast, include one or two fruit servings with your regular breakfast or ring the changes with a fruit packed breakfast smoothie.
- Include at least one vegetable serving with lunch. Add sliced tomatoes, grated carrot and spinach leaves to a sandwich or add a handful of baby carrots or raw red-pepper strips to your lunch box.
- Snack on fruit, dried apricots, raisins and almonds during the day.
- Include at least two vegetable servings at dinner. Add spinach or kale to soups and pasta sauces.
Adapted from The Globe and Mail
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