Eating more fruits and vegetables associated with lower risk of ALS

Produce power strikes again. The role of vegetables and fruits in reducing the risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, cataracts and macular degeneration has been demonstrated time and again. Now ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is being added to the list.

Data from five large, prospective studies, analyzed and published recently in the Annals of Neurology, showed that a greater intake of carotenoids, particularly beta carotene and lutein, was associated with a reduced risk of ALS. A prospective study selects a population in good health, collects data on dietary and lifestyle habits and follows the population over a period of years to see how diseases develop.

More than 2,000 years ago Hippocrates stated, “Let food be thy medicine.” The wisdom of these words is reinforced by most population studies. I would add that food is slow-release medicine that must be taken regularly — and, to paraphrase author Michael Pollan, should be recognizable as food to Hippocrates.

Doing double duty for beta carotene and lutein are kale, collards, pumpkin, spinach and brussels sprouts. You cannot go wrong adding any dark green or orange vegetable to your daily menu.

The vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in richly colored produce are too many to list. Kale, last year’s “it” veggie, can be massaged with oil and lemon for a salad, added to soup, baked into kale chips or added to omelets. Kale is the most successful vegetable in my backyard garden, which is wonderful since freshly picked kale has great taste.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.