Boosts immune function: Dark green leafy vegetables and yellow-orange vegetables are rich sources of both beta-carotene and vitamin C which are immune boosting nutrients. Beta-carotene gets converted into vitamin A within the body and helps maintain the structural and functional integrity of the skin and mucosal cells of the eyes, respiratory, gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts which in turn function as a barrier against infections. Vitamin A is also important for the normal functioning of several types of immune cells in the innate response and is necessary for the generation of antibody responses to specific antigens. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and protects the immune cells from oxidative damage. Regular intake of these vegetables helps strengthen the immune system making one less prone to falling ill.
Improved mental function: Occasional forgetfulness is normal and could be due to a lack of sleep or several other reasons, including genetics, level of physical activity, lifestyle and environmental factors. There is no doubt that diet plays a major role in brain health and the best menu for boosting memory and brain function is one that encourages good blood flow to the brain.
Some research studies have shown that lutein, a carotenoid found in leafy vegetables, other green vegetables and yellow-orange vegetables enhance learning and memory. Besides lutein, researchers have examined individual nutrients like vitamin K, folate and beta-carotene which have been shown to help slow cognitive decline in experimental studies. Since declining cognitive ability is a major symptom of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, increasing consumption of green leafy vegetables could offer a very simple, affordable and non-invasive way of potentially protecting the brain from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
In recent years, an increased use of pesticides and hormones on vegetables and availability of artificial plastic vegetables has triggered doubts about the safety and health benefits of vegetables.
Excessive use of pesticides has led to high residues in foods and their toxic metabolites in the environment. The adverse effects from exposure to pesticides depends upon the dose, the route of exposure, how easily the pesticide is absorbed, the type of effect of the pesticides and its metabolites, accumulation and persistence in the body. The toxic effects are also dependent upon the health status of the individual. Malnourished individuals are more susceptible to its toxic effects. Even small quantities of pesticide residues consumed over a long period get accumulated in large amounts in the body fat. The long-term adverse effects of pesticide residues vary from minor health problems to more serious ones like cancer, reduced life span, increased cholesterol, increased infant mortality rate, various metabolic and genetic disorders.
Every pesticide has a safety or waiting period, which is the number of days before a pesticide reaches its tolerance limit or the level at which the pesticide residues in food have no harmful effects. The safety period is different for different pesticides and varies from one crop to another. A food commodity is considered safe for consumption only after the residues get dispersed. Pesticides begin to slowly disperse after being sprayed and if crops are harvested before the completion of the safety period they contain very large quantities of pesticide residues that are hazardous to health. While the concerns over pesticide residues are genuine at the same time one cannot discount the health benefits of vegetables. Here are some ways to minimize the harm done by pesticide residues.
*Buy vegetables from local farmers and vendors. Vegetables that are locally grown by small farmers or collected wild from forests are less likely to contain high amounts of pesticide residues as these are normally grown using organic manure. Local vegetables are seasonal and hence once can enjoy a variety of vegetables in different seasons.
*The best way to remove pesticide residues from fruits and vegetables is to soak them without peeling or cutting in salt water for 10 to 15 minutes and then wash them thoroughly in running water. The pesticide residues from green leafy vegetables are not easily removed with one washing and hence two washings are needed for complete removal.
To conclude we need to eat vegetables rather than take multivitamin or antioxidant capsules as no cocktail of artificial supplements can mimic the health benefits vegetables.
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)