Friday, April 19 2024 - 11:11 AM
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Fruits and Vegetables

What if there was a pill that could reduce our risk of chronic diseases with no side effects? What if it would help keep our heart, bones, stomach and intestines healthy? Would you take it? Probably so. Yet, this is what we find in fruits and vegetables and somehow they get cut from our diet. Sure, we may eat an apple here, drink a little orange juice there and maybe add a squirt of ketchup on a burger and think we’re doing great. But what we really need is a diet packed with bananas, peaches and blueberries; or celery, broccoli and spinach. Why?

Here are six good reasons why we should include a lot of these foods with every meal.

1. Fruits and vegetables are premiere sources of nutrients.

Strawberries are a good source of folic acid, kiwifruit is a good source of vitamin C, and asparagus is a wonderful blend of vitamin K, folic acid, vitamin A and Vitamin C just to name a few from its long list of nutrients. Normally, we don’t think about getting adequate pyridoxine so that our cells grow properly; or the right amount of manganese so that our bones can support our frame. But these are the type of nutrients we need to stay healthy.

Fruits and vegetables offer an array of these nutrients to help us live healthy lives. By including them in our diets, we have the supplies to build good health.

2. Fruits and vegetables offer the right amount of calories. 

A small apple may have 40 – 60 calories and contain substances that benefit the body. But if we take that apple, peel it, add sugar and wrap it in pastry, the calories may go up to 500. And it takes less time to eat the high-calorie pastry when compared to the low-calorie apple.

Fruits and vegetables without all the extra processed stuff, makes a great addition to the meal. Most of them are low in calories and don’t bombard our system with more than we need. They provide a small and steady supply of energy. Extra ingredients such as sugar and fat do not add health benefits but rather adds to the struggle of keeping a healthy weight and a healthy body. In other words, the sugar and fat are simply entertainment for our mouths.

Here’s one other added benefit of eating fruits and vegetables: this dynamic duo helps crowd out high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.

3. Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber.

Think of fiber as a broom that sweeps out our intestines. Several types of fiber exist and each has its unique role. For example, apples and citrus fruits have pectin. Pectin has been studied for its role in reducing cholesterol and glucose levels. Hemicellulose is found on the outer shell of foods like corn and wheat. This fiber is beneficial for regulating bowel movements and reducing problems like constipation. Lignin is found in fruit, root vegetables and seeds such as flaxseed or the ones on strawberries. Lignin helps to reduce the risk of hormone-related cancers such as breast and prostate cancers. Getting a variety of fruits and vegetables provides each type of fiber.

4. Fruits and vegetables are packed with color—lots of them.

Each color or pigment is actually a plant chemical or phytochemical. For example, the red coloring in tomatoes is called Lycopene. Lycopene has been studied for its role in preventing prostate cancer. The orange/yellow color compounds in carrots and sweet potatoes are called carotenoids. These compounds help support eye vision and the immune system. Blue foods like blueberries, blackberries and purple grapes contain the coloring called, anthocyanins. These compounds help maintain memory function, eye health and protect against certain cancers. Other food colors are green, white/tan/brown, red and yellow/orange. Eat a variety to get all the colors.

5. Fruits and vegetables help reduce chronic diseases. 

Scientists are pretty excited about how these foods help reduce the incidence of diet-related diseases. Epidemiological studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of stroke, high blood pressure and other heart-related diseases.1,2 They can help reduce metabolic syndrome, which includes a combination of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.3 A high fruit and vegetable diet is also associated with reducing certain types of cancer.4

These compelling studies give us even more reason to pack these foods into our diets.

6. Fruits and vegetables help bones stay healthy.

These foods contain plant estrogen and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, which are important to maintain bone health. But fruits and vegetables may have another role. One possible role is their alkaline effect on the acid-base balance in the body. If there is too much metabolic acid, it may result in the body dumping too much calcium in the urine.5 Fruits and vegetables may act as a buffer and help maintain calcium balance in our bones. This effect has been studied and reported mainly in 16–18 year-old teens and among 60–83 year-old women.6 These are two important times in our life to maintain calcium levels in our bones.

So… why eat fruits and vegetables? If these reasons aren’t enough to convince, here’s one more. Fruits and vegetables help support brain function. That’s right! Their nutrient and phytochemical profile support healthy brain cells. Fruits and vegetables may also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.7

With so many wonderful benefits, why pass on a mango or zucchini? Why not start our day with sliced bananas on cereal or on toast and peanut butter? Why not add a small salad to a sandwich for lunch or add stir-fried green beans with slivered almonds to your dinner? Or why not snack on a small box of raisins, or spoon out the insides of kiwifruit when our stomach starts to growl?

Getting a variety is just as important as increasing the servings. Presently, Americans average about three servings a day. Current recommendations are as high as 13 servings a day. Why? Because the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables are just that good!

Pamela A. Williams writes from Southern California.

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About Pamela A. Williams, MPH, RD

Pamela A. Williams, MPH, RD

is a dietitian, photographer, and writer in Southern California.

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