Even small amounts of green and orange vegetables can improve the health of overweight and obese children, regardless of whether they lose weight, a new study shows.
Making nutrient-rich vegetables—including leafy foods such as spinach or broccoli and orangish vegetables such as carrots—even a small part of a child’s daily diet reduced bad fats in the body and also improved insulin levels in a group of overweight Latino children.
Children who regularly consumed one or two fist-size servings of these nonstarchy vegetables reduced their risk for liver problems, Type 2 diabetes, and other complications of obesity.
Although the children, who ranged in age from 8 to 18, continued to eat fewer nutritious vegetables than what’s recommended by the US Department of Agriculture, the improvements to their health were significant.
Leafy Green Salads
“For a lot of at-risk children, intake of vegetables is really low,” says Jaimie Davis, assistant professor in the nutritional sciences department at University of Texas at Austin.
Fewer than 6 percent of children eat the USDA-recommended multiple servings of nutrient-rich vegetables most days, according to the study that is published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“We found, though, even eating less than a full serving of these vegetables can really have a pronounced effect on children’s health,” Davis says. “One large leafy green salad as a regular part of lunch is enough to make a difference.”
For the study, researchers looked at the effects of nutrient-rich vegetables in the diets of 175 overweight or obese Latino youths in Los Angeles.
They found differences of a quarter cup per day in consumption of nutritious vegetables could be linked to improvements in metabolic health, including lower insulin levels and fewer “bad fats” in the body: visceral fat that lingers around internal organs and liver fat.
Some types of body fats are more dangerous because they can lead to serious health complications, and they send the wrong signals to the brain about when and how much to eat.
The type of vegetable matters, the researchers say. Starchier vegetables such as corn and potatoes don’t bring the positive effects of leafy greens and orange vegetables.
Researchers from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California are coauthors of the study.
*Image of “baby carrots” via Shutterstock