Starting with the Bottom Line

December 15, 2010 in Antioxidants, Blog Recipes, Diabetes Management, Diabetic Menu Item, Mediterranean, Nutritionism, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

I want to jump right into this post with the bottom line of a recent study.  It found that alpha-carotene levels in the blood are linked to a longer life. This finding energizes me with a renewed zeal toward my message of eating whole foods, not shopping for scientific-sounding nutrients. The researchers ended their conclusions with: “These findings support increasing fruit and vegetable consumption as a means of preventing premature death.” Are you wondering why I’m so happy about their bottom line? Their bottom line continues to build on the joy that I wrote about in: I’m Shouting Halleluiah, Cheers, Hurray and Yippee!

The study published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine on November 22, 2010, was led by a medical doctor, Chaoyang Li of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (In addition, I always have extra interest when my alma mater, UCLA, is involved.) What the researchers did was to measure and compare the concentration of alpha-carotene in the blood of 15,318 U.S. adults for a period of 13.9 years. They learned that those with the highest blood levels of alpha-carotene had up to a 39 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all other causes.

The chief researcher, Dr. Li, and his colleagues said that beta-carotene has received attention for its possible role in the prevention of several chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Alpha-carotene is one of the 600 or more carotenoids; it is about ten times more effective than its more popular sister (beta-carotene) in inhibiting the development of cancer.

My great fear is that the Flim Flam Vitamin Salesman, aka Big Pharmacy, will take off with selling alpha-carotene supplements; making the same mistakes as they did with beta-carotene. Don’t forget our numerous discussions of nutritionism trying to discourage the reader from taking a single nutrient in hopes of receiving the benefits of all the nutrients in whole foods.

Certainly there is a risk for the public to get the wrong message; some may see a study like this present one and just make a giant leap of false faith to the taking of alpha-carotene supplements. But let me remind you how this type of study works. The researchers notice that people who eat plenty of fruit and vegetables have better health. The researchers know that there is lots of alpha-carotene in fruits and vegetables. Next they design a good study that shows, that people with high amounts of alpha-carotene in their blood live a longer life and have less disease. It is reason to celebrate, but here is the BIG BUT: The alpha-carotene is not the only carotenoid or other nutrient that is high in the blood of those who had the lower risk of death – it is one of the nutrients. That is why the researchers don’t say, “Start taking alpha-carotene supplements. Instead they say to, start increasing “fruit and vegetable consumption.”

Another study done in Germany at the Federal Research Center for Nutrition found that C-reactive protein (CRP), a good indicator of inflammation which is linked with heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some cancers is reduced when the subjects consume foods that are rich in carotenoids (note the plural form of the word – the 600 plus, carotenoids), such as peppers, carrots, yams and other red and orange produce.

So the practical bottom line is to begin to identify which foods contain lots of alpha-carotene (and many other carotenoids). Do notice that the fast foods that are listed on link in the previous sentence range from 1 to 14 micrograms of alpha-carotene; the vegetables range from 1,122 to 28,215 micrograms and fruit ranges from 1 to 1074 micrograms. Little hint: You may not want to rely on a cheeseburger to support a long healthy life.

If you want to insure that you and your family are eating plenty of alpha-carotene and other carotenoids I developed another yam recipe to help you get started. If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you will have noticed that I’ve been cooking with yams for a long time. My grandmother taught me to use yams decades before the trend started in San Francisco and New York restaurants (1980s). I realize that the large growth in consumption of yams is primarily coming from ‘sweet potato fries’ (like French fries, but made with sweet potatoes). It’s a huge new market; the giant food processor ConAgra opened a $155 million plant dedicated to processing frozen sweet potato products – the first of its kind in the world. Although I’m not a proponent of French fries (or anything deep fat fried for that matter), making fries from sweet potatoes, would increase the carotenoid intake of the fry eaters group.

My new recipe was developed thinking of replacing mashed potatoes. I know the children love mashed potatoes, but my recipe for Mashed Carrots and Red Garnet Yams is one idea to introduce a new food, in a familiar style. It will make taste buds old or young happy and satisfied. You may be happy to learn that this recipe tastes so good with only a little olive oil, and orange juice – no butter, sour cream, or whole milk. If you’re trying to avoid or manage diabetes or weight, yams are a great choice, partially because of the low glycemic index of yams. The recipe is an all-around winner. Hope you enjoy it and your alpha-carotene levels rise to an all-time high! Even more importantly, remember that the increase in one carotenoid, alpha in this case, is just an indicator of the presence of all the other good nutrients that in different combinations are producing the great results. Yes, alpha-carotene, even more than beta-carotene, is correlated with health benefits, but the researchers are not telling you to get a supplement that contains just those carotenoids.  They are saying to eat the fruits and vegetables that contain the whole team of less prominent nutrients, not just the ones with the good press agents.

Mashed Carrots and Red Garnet Yams

Notching up mashed potatoes for Sunday dinner or ‘an any day meal’. The flavor is so good that you may want to serve this for a holiday meal.


3 cups peeled carrots cut into chunks

Red garnet yams, enough to yield about 3 cups  

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ to ½ teaspoon salt, to taste

½ cup orange juice

½ cup toasted pecan pieces, if desired

¼ to 1/3 cup retained carrot cooking water


Cover carrot pieces with water and cook until tender. Microwave washed yams with holes poked through the skins, until tender. Meanwhile toast pecan pieces in oven, skillet or toaster oven and squeeze the orange. When the carrots are tender drain the cooking water, retaining about a 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Peel the yams. Put the yams and carrots in a food processor or mash with a ricer or hand masher. Add the nutmeg, salt, oil, and orange juice, and process until smooth. Add the carrot water to make the desired consistency. Top with toasted pecans, if desired.

Chop the peeled carrots.

Use about 3 cups of chopped carrots.

Cover carrots with water.

Poke holes into the yam skins.

Squeeze an orange.

No need to strain the orange juice.

Toast the nuts while the carrots and yams are cooking.

Cool the yams so they can be handled and remove skins.

Process all ingredients except toasted nuts.

Serve with your favorite meal.

Mashed Carrots and Red Garnet Yams - part of a balanced meal.