Women may live longer — but eating these colorful foods can help ensure they live healthier

Average life expectancy for women is greater than that of men. The additional longevity, though, includes higher rates of illnesses. A new study from the University of Georgia (UGA) suggests that these higher rates of illnesses can be improved by a diet high in pigmented carotenoids.

Foods high in pigmented carotenoids include yams, kale, spinach, watermelon, bell peppers, tomatoes, oranges, and carrots. These fruits and vegetables are particularly important in preventing cognitive and visual deterioration.

According to Billy R. Hammond, a professor in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the study, some of the diseases that women experience during their longer life are amenable to modification through lifestyle. 

The research, which analyzes data from previous studies, details several degenerative conditions that women experience more than men, even accounting for additional longevity. Hammond uses macular degeneration as an example. “If you take all the autoimmune diseases collectively, women account for nearly 80 percent,” says Hammond. He states that because of this vulnerability, women need extra preventive care.

Dietary carotenoids are antioxidants for humans. Two specific carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, found in specific tissues of the eye and brain, have been shown to favorably affect central nervous system degeneration.

Carotenoids are available as dietary supplements. Although supplements of lutein and zeaxanthin are a way of increasing intake, Hammond says that getting them through food is a better strategy.

“Components of diet influence the brain, from things like personality to even our concept of self. I don’t think people quite realize what a profound effect diet has on basically who they are, their mood, even their propensity to anger,” Hammond states. “And now of course this is extended to the microbiome and the bacteria that make up your gut—all of these components work together to create the building blocks that compose our brain and the neurotransmitters that mediate its use.”

The study, “The influence of the macular carotenoids on women’s eye and brain health,” is published in Nutritional Neuroscience.

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