Bigger bodies need bigger servings of vegetables to benefit – study

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A study from Auckland University of Technology has found people who weigh more require larger servings of fruit and vegetables to reap their benefits (file photo).

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A study from Auckland University of Technology has found people who weigh more require larger servings of fruit and vegetables to reap their benefits (file photo).

The bigger you are, the more fruit and vegetables you need to eat to achieve the same health benefits as those who weigh less, new research has found. 

We all know the ‘5+ a Day‘ mantra, but a new study from Auckland University of Technology (AUT) suggests the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables should be in direct proportion to body size. 

Remember hearing that eating too many carrots can turn your skin orange? 

AUT professor of nutrition Elaine Rush used that concept, and a small device called a Veggie Meter, to measure the colour and intensity of carotenoids in the skin of nearly 600 New Zealanders.

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Carotenoids are yellow, orange and red pigments produced by plants – what give pumpkins, oranges, carrots, corn and tomatoes their characteristic colours. 

Carotenoids – found in vegetables, fruit, eggs and dairy products – act as antioxidants and can be converted by the body into vitamin A, essential for good vision, growth and development. 

The fingertips of 571 people aged 16 to 85 were read using the device, which generates a carotenoid ‘status’ score. 

Participants were also asked a set of questions about what vegetables, fruit and dairy products they consumed. 

Elaine Rush, a professor of nutrition at AUT University, said the findings show New Zealanders are not eating enough carotenoid-rich veges.

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Elaine Rush, a professor of nutrition at AUT University, said the findings show New Zealanders are not eating enough carotenoid-rich veges.

Those who had a larger body size – by weight and BMI – had lower levels of carotenoids.

On average, a person weighing 100kg with the same body fat as a person weighing 50kg would need twice the amount of carotenoids to reach the same ‘status’, Rush’s research found. 

This would mean someone weighing 100kg would need a whole cup of carrots, pumpkin or peas to reach the recommended level, when the standard serving size is just half a cup. 

They would also need two cups of salad, spinach or silverbeet – rather than the standard one cup serve – to achieve the same health benefits as someone smaller. 

Rush’s research found those over 40 had higher carotenoid levels than young people.

Carotenoids are plant pigments responsible for the bright orange colour of carrots, and reds and yellows of other fruits and vegetables (file photo).

MARION VAN DIJK/STUFF

Carotenoids are plant pigments responsible for the bright orange colour of carrots, and reds and yellows of other fruits and vegetables (file photo).

By ethnic group, East Asian participants had the highest carotenoid status and Pacific peoples had the the lowest.  

Overall, just one in five people were eating enough vegetables, Rush said. 

Previous research showed fewer than half of all Kiwi children are eating enough fruit and veges, and only about a third of Auckland adults.

Rush told Stuff the findings reiterate the fact that New Zealanders were “just are not eating enough” vegetables. 

Improving access to fresh vegetables and fruit was an important public health issue, which could prevent illnesses such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease, she said. 

The study was funded by the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation, and undertaken as part of the Bayer Food Focus Project.

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