Increase Produce Intake to Help Decrease Risk of ALS
By Staci Amend
January 19, 2015
Last year’s Ice Bucket Challenge craze raised millions of dollars for future ALS research—but until doctors discover a cure, the best strategy against contracting the disease is prevention. For those of you who are a little fuzzy on the details, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that damages nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, affecting our ability to initiate and control muscle movement. ALS generally develops between the ages of 40 and 70, and affects more men than women. As it turns out, though, one of the smartest things you can do to prevent ALS is something you should be doing already: eating your veggies.
ALS heroes: omega-3 fatty acids and carotenoids
In a recent study published in JAMA Neurology, researchers from Harvard’s School of Public Health analyzed the diets of more than a million total subjects across five study groups over many years. Among the group of nearly 1,000 ALS cases, the study found that those who ate a diet rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and carotenoids had a reduced risk for contracting the disease—which means that consumption may help to delay or possibly even prevent ALS.
Carotenoids are the antioxidant compounds that give certain fruits and vegetables their bright red, yellow, orange and green colors. Beta carotene, found in carrots, yams and squash, is a carotenoid, as is the lycopene that colors tomatoes. Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale are not only rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, but also high in fiber and—unlike other PUFA sources like walnuts, flax seeds and salmon—low in fat. Both carotenoids and PUFAs can help control inflammation and oxidative stress, two bodily processes known to contribute to risk factors for ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Carotenoid- and PUFA-rich veggies have a variety of other health benefits, too. Carotenoids are known to support eye health and reduce the risk of certain eye diseases. Eating a diet rich in carotenoids has been linked to reduced risk of certain cancers as well. PUFAs are known to support heart health, but here’s a benefit that might not have been on your radar: healthy skin! In addition to being among the heartier vegetables, PUFA-rich vegetables are loaded with phytochemicals and nutrients that help keep your skin in tip-top shape. For best results, enjoy these raw or lightly steamed, as overcooking can release key nutrients.
Try these veggie-rich sides
Ready to get more of these healthy superfoods into your diet? Try Staci’s Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Minted Broccoli or Glazed Brussels Sprouts & Baby Carrot alongside any of your Jenny Craig entrees.