For myriad reasons already known, eating a vegetable-based diet is one of the most healthful things you can do for your body. A recent research review in the journal Clinical Epigenetics adds more evidence to the case.

Scientists from the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), showed that, in particular, vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage are filled with compounds that could help reverse or prevent cancers and other aging-related diseases as part of the “epigenetics diet,” a new lifestyle concept coined after the article’s publication.

“Your mother always told you to eat your vegetables, and she was right,” said co-author Trygve Tollefsbol, PhD, DO, biology professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, in a press release. “But now we better understand why she was right; compounds in many of these foods suppress gene aberrations that over time cause fatal diseases.”

Epigenetics is the study of the changes in human gene expressions over time—changes that can cause cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses. In recent years, epigenetics research worldwide has identified specific food compounds that inhibit negative epigenetic effects. Such foods include soybeans, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage. Green tea, fava beans, kale, grapes and the spice turmeric round out the diet.

“The epigenetics diet can be adopted easily, because the concentrations of the compounds needed for a positive effect are readily achievable,” said lead author Syed Meeran, PhD, research assistant professor in Tollefsbol’s UAB department of biology laboratory.

For example, Meeran says sipping tea compounds called polyphenols in daily amounts that are equivalent to approximately three cups of green tea has been shown to reverse breast cancer in laboratory mice by suppressing the gene that triggers the disease. Similarly, a daily cup of broccoli sprouts, in which sulforaphane is an active compound, has been shown to reduce the risk of developing many cancers.

“Our review article has drawn everything together from global studies, and the common theme is that compounds in the epigenetics diet foods can, at the very least, help us lead healthier lives and help our bodies prevent potentially debilitating diseases like breast cancer and Alzheimer’s,” Tollefsbol said.

For more background on epigenetics, refer to “Epigenetics and Heredity” in the June 2010 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal: www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/epigenetics-and-heredity.