As Americans' waistbands steadily expand, more and more emphasis is being put on overall wellness, or the state of being in good health. Healthy habits for lifelong wellness include the consumption of nutritious foods in reasonable portions and regular physical activity.
The US Department of Agriculture and the National Cancer Institute recommend diets that provide 6 mg of beta-carotene a day. The ideal way to get the daily recommended amount of beta-carotene is by including bright orange and dark green vegetables in your diet. An easy orange vegetable to include in your diet is the sweet potato, which contains four times the daily recommended amount of beta-carotene.
The National Cancer Institute recommends that people eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, especially vegetables that are rich in vitamins A and C (like sweet potatoes).
Vegetables and fruits contain more than 100 beneficial vitamins, minerals, fibers and other substances, including phytochemicals (chemical compounds such as carotenoids, flavonoids, terpenes, sterols, indoles and phenols, created by plants).
A study conducted by the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland gave 21 HIV-positive people 180 mg (300,000 IU) of beta-carotene every day for four weeks, resulting in several indicators of their "helper" T cell activity increasing significantly over the people who were given a look-alike-but-inactive placebo, whose indicators dropped. "Helper" T cells are the primary target of the HIV virus, and the body's ability to fight infections diminishes as their levels drop.
A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers linked high levels of beta-carotene with a lower incidence of lung cancer, which kills approximately 145,000 Americans every year.
According to the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, beta-carotene is one of a large group of substances called carotenoids, which are generally found in the same fruits and vegetables, and which may also have anticancer properties. At least 70 research studies have found an increased risk of cancer in people who don't eat enough produce rich in carotenoids.
Fruits and vegetables are nature's best sources of beta-carotene and vitamin C, two nutrients with well-documented anti-cancer effects. Source: Barbara Abrams, Dr. P.H., R.D., a researcher at the University of California School of Public Health in Berkeley.
Vitamin C has been associated with an increase in blood levels of "good" cholesterol, which lowers the risk of heart disease, and a decrease in the levels of "bad" cholesterol, which raises the risk.
Some fruits and vegetables are rich in soluble fiber, notably pectin, which helps lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. These include apples, citrus fruit, berries, carrots, apricots, prunes, cabbage, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. If you eat at least five servings a day, you'll see an extra drop in your cholesterol level beyond the effect of a low-fat diet. UC Berkeley Wellness Letter January 2001
Fiber may also lower your risk of colon cancer, says Peter Greenwald, MD, director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control of the National Cancer Institute. Experts believe that fiber may increase bulk in the colon, thereby "diluting" possible cancer promoting substances (carcinogens) that are found in food or formed during digestion.