A recent study published in the Dietitians Association of Australia's journal, Nutrition and Dietetics, has shown that consuming phytonutrients called carotenoids (fat-soluble pigments that give colour to vegetables) may reduce the risk of developing insulin resistance (IR).
Our bodies use the hormone insulin to help utilise glucose from our food, so if we develop IR, it can lead to high blood-sugar levels. IR is a major risk factor for developing chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. So preventing IR is a way of reducing the risk of a wide range of chronic diseases.
The study, conducted by Shahid Behesti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, analysed the eating habits of 938 men and women over a three-year period. The team compared the amount of carotenoids each person consumed and what their risk of IR was.
The participants who ate the largest amounts of two particular types of carotenoids, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, had a 58% and 49% lower risk of developing IR, compared with the group who ate the least. Beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin are found in spinach, pumpkin, red capsicums and carrots, so are easy to include in meals.
Jean Hailes for Women's Health dietitian, Anna Waldron, thinks this research is a step in the right direction. "This research highlights the importance of not only eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, but also having a variety of types," Ms Waldron says. "We are continuing to learn more about exactly which components of food are beneficial in preventing chronic disease."
The research ties in with the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which recommends eating a minimum of five servings of vegetables each day.
Ms Waldron says people can easily include a variety of vegetables throughout the day without having to go to extremes. "By including sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, capsicum and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale regularly in your meals, you will have plenty of these carotenoids," she says. "Many of these vegetables taste great roasted in the oven with some olive oil and herbs or spices and served either warm or in a salad."