While a plant-rich diet is associated with better health overall, and a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers specifically, exactly how such a diet affects blood levels of specific nutrients is not clear. New findings suggest that raising (vitamin C) levels may be one way by which fruit and vegetable consumption offers protective benefits.
Researchers measured blood levels of vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E and beta-cryptoxanthin – a nutrient found in oranges and orange juice--in 116 non-smoking men aged 35 to 72, who did not take vitamin supplements. Smoking, the researchers explain, lowers blood levels of certain nutrients, while taking supplements increases nutrient levels. All study volunteers filled out a questionnaire on how often they ate certain foods in the previous year.
The average fruit and vegetable intake was about three times daily. Blood levels of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and carotenoids, which are converted to vitamin A in the body, were significantly associated with the frequency of eating foods containing these nutrients. The association was particularly strong for vitamin C.
In this study, vitamin C was much more highly associated with fruit and vegetable intake than were the carotenoids. The researchers stated that it is possible that vitamin C is as important as or more important than carotenoids in conferring the protective benefit of fruits and vegetables.
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