Several years ago the National Cancer Institute introduced its “5 A Day for Better Health” program to encourage all of us to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Many other scientific bodies similarly have encouraged this practice as a way for us to protect against not just cancer, but also cardiovascular disease, declining mental functioning, reduced memory and other forms of deterioration associated with aging. Initially, it was thought that these benefits come mostly from antioxidant mechanisms and thus vitamins C and E were primarily responsible. However, more recent studies have shown that important aspects of the protection afforded by fruits and vegetables derive from the quantity and the variety of polyphenols, carotenoids and other phytonutrients found in them. These nutrients may be providing benefits that are unrelated to classic antioxidant mechanisms.
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