Want loads of powerful nutrients? Reach for fiery-orange produce, from winter squash and carrots to papaya and sweet potatoes.
Green veggies get all the attention. Sure, broccoli and kale do a body good, but there's a whole family of equally potent produce out there. Amber, tawny, gold and copper-colored produce are bursting with carotenoids, fierce pigments that multitask to safeguard your health. They gobble up harmful free radicals and quell inflammation—a known culprit in many chronic diseases, including heart disease, colitis and asthma. They also prevent the buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries that can lead to heart disease and stroke. Carotenoids even filter out UV light that harms your eyes. Almost all orange fruits and vegetables contain some carotenoids, but for the most concentrated sources, load up on carrots, pumpkin, winter squash, sweet potatoes, apricots, mangoes and papayas. Read on for more reasons to go orange and get recipes that put the best flame-colored fruits and vegetables of the season out front. You'll never think of an old orange carrot as humble again.
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1. Burn Belly Fat!
Research suggests eating more high-carotenoid foods may help prevent excess fat storage, especially around your midsection. It's also well-established that leaner people have higher blood levels of carotenoids—plus two recent small studies found that adding beta-carotene-rich juices or supplements to kids' diets decreased their belly fat.
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2. Improve Eyesight
When scientists analyzed the diets of more than 100,000 men and women who were followed for 35 years in the Nurses' Health Study, they found those who ate the carotenoid equivalent of 2½ cups of carrots each week lowered their risk of advanced macular degeneration (a leading cause of vision loss) by 25 to 35 percent.
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3. Destroy Cancer Cells
New research shows that getting the carotenoid beta carotene from fruits and vegetables—not from supplements—may ramp up our body's ability to target and destroy cancer cells. Though other studies on carotenoids' cancer-prevention possibilities have been mixed, there is promising research that suggests eating carotenoid-rich veggies could lower your risk of breast and colorectal cancers.
4. Boost Immunity
The pigment that gives orange veggies their safety-vest color is the same one your body uses to make vitamin A—and this nutrient is vital for immune system health. It even makes immunizations—like that flu shot you just got—more effective. And, emerging research suggests vitamin A may provide some protection against autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, lupus and multiple sclerosis.
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How to Get the Most Out of Your Orange Vegetables
1. Crush Them
Carotenoids in orange fruits and vegetables live behind a sturdy cell wall so tough that we can only access a fraction of them. Slicing, dicing, chopping, even chewing will burst those rigid cell walls open. But pureeing frees up the most—up to 600 percent more carotenoids than just chewing. So puree apricots into a vinaigrette or blend a mango into your next smoothie.
2. Cook 'Em Up
Heat softens and loosens those stubborn cell walls that protect carotenoids, making it easier for our digestive enzymes to break down otherwise inaccessible carotenoids. So when you cook carrots—or other orange produce—your body absorbs twice as much beta carotene. Add a little fat (roughly 6 grams worth per serving, or about 1½ teaspoons of oil or butter) and your gut will absorb even more of these powerful pigments.