In the first study of its kind, research has uncovered another string to the ‘health bow’ of vegetables, showing carotenoids, the natural plant chemicals in vegies, may halve the risk of insulin resistance in adults, a major risk factor for some of the country’s biggest killers.
The new study, published in the Dietitians Association of Australia’s journal Nutrition & Dietetics, tracked the eating habits of 938 men and women over three years, and compared their intake of phytochemicals called carotenoids found in vegetables to their risk of insulin resistance.
Researchers found those who ate the most of the carotenoids B-carotene and B-cryptoxanthin (found in many vegies, such as spinach, carrots, red capsicum and pumpkin) had a 58 per cent and 49 per cent lower risk of insulin resistance respectively, compared with those who ate the least.
According to Duane Mellor, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia: “Insulin is a hormone, and is vital in helping our bodies use glucose (sugars) from the foods we eat. But when people have insulin resistance, our bodies ‘resist’ the hormone, and over time, this can lead to high blood sugar levels.
So the more we do to help keep insulin doing its job effectively, the more we reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes, Australia’s fastest-growing chronic disease, as well our risk of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.”
According to the researchers, the protective effect of some types of carotenoids is most likely because of their antioxidant properties.
Dr Mellor said although studies have shown that antioxidants protect against oxidative stress in the test-tube, the way they seem to stop chronic disease getting a hold in our bodies is a little subtler.
“In simple terms they help our bodies deal with the stress of metabolism by making blood vessels ‘more bouncy’ and our livers more able do deal with what life throws at it.” Said Dr Mellor.
This research backs up the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which recommend most Australians eat a minimum of five serves of vegetables each day.
“Vegetables are packed full of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, fibre, and these vital phytochemicals, such as carotenoids, that can protect against chronic diseases,” said Dr Mellor.
Dr Mellor, an Accredited Practising Dietitian, points to everyday vegies that are in season over winter, such as carrots, spinach and broccoli, as excellent sources of carotenoids.
“We need to do much better to reap those long term health benefits. Only seven per cent of Australians eat the recommended five serves of vegetables each day, and eating more of them is such an easy way to help avoid devastating diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even some types of cancer,” said Dr Mellor.