What’s So Great About Fruits and Vegetables?

Fruits and VegetablesFor generations, we have known that fruits and vegetables are good for our health. Multiple studies show time and again that we live longer when we eat more fruits and vegetables.

How many fruits and vegetables is enough?

However, just how much we need has not been as clear. Since the 1980s, there have been studies that have shown that a diet filled with fruits and vegetables is associated with longer life. The famous DASH diet (Diet Aimed to Stop Hypertension) showed that blood pressure drops proportionately by each additional fruit/vegetable. Over the decades, studies continue to show that more and more fruits and vegetables have more benefit. In 2014, a British study showed that overall survival and specifically cardiovascular benefits were highest in the study group who ate more than seven servings per day. The American Heart Association now recommends eight or more servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day to keep maintain weight, cholesterol and control blood pressure. A serving—a serving is a baseball sized fruit, one cup of raw vegetables or ½ cup of cooked vegetables.

Why are fruits and vegetables so great?

The Phytonutrients

First, they are packed with minerals and nutrients called phytonutrients which vary based on the color of their skin. They can be broken down into components such as carotenoids, phenols, flavonoids, resveratrol and phytoestrogens. The more brightly colored the fruits and vegetables are, the more phytonutrients they have in them. For example, red fruits and vegetables have lycopene in them and have benefit in reduction of stroke and prostate cancer. Those fruits and vegetables which are orange, yellow and green are high in beta carotene which may be protective for our eyes. Blue fruits and vegetables are loaded with flavonoids which help us dilate our arteries. Other nutrients which are abundant in fruits and vegetables are folate, magnesium, potassium and vitamins K which are all important for many reactions in the body and needed to maintain healthy blood vessels. All fruits and vegetables have an abundance of phytonutrients, so the goal is to get as many colors as you can which is often referred to as “eat the rainbow.”

Antioxidants

Intaking my fruits and vegetables are a great way to get natural antioxidants into our bodies. As our bodies age and are exposed to stressors, oxidative stress increases which can damage the cells and genes and lead to chronic illness. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with natural antioxidants which combat these stressors and fight inflammation. Examples of antioxidants high in fruits and vegetables are Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Vitamin A is abundant in carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, cantaloupes, and bell peppers. Examples of fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C are apricots, bell peppers, green cabbage, cauliflower and citrus.

Fiber

Another benefit to fruits and vegetables are that they have a high amount of fiber that help us grow our good bacteria in our guts. A healthy gut has 100 trillion colonies of bacteria which give us three million genes. These bacteria help us from our vitamins, hormones, and transmitters for our mind along with many other functions. Foods high in fiber can grow the colonies of good bacteria which then generate byproducts called short chain fatty acids which are critical to maintain our intestinal cell health and to keep our immune cells intact. In fact, healthy combination of short chain fatty acids can help prevent inflammatory responses which directly helps prevent conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

How Can We get that Many In?

Many people think eight servings are hard to get in a day. However, there are many ways to incorporate them into our day. Using several of them at time in salads, stir fry, smoothies, sauces and soups are a great way to get 2-3 servings at a time. Also using your plate as a guide, try to fill ½ the plate with fruits and vegetables with your meals. You can get creative by adding mixed vegetables to pastas and casseroles, and fruits to pancake or waffles mixes and baked goods.

Some worry about living in areas where they don’t have access to fresh produce all year. You don’t have to get them fresh all the time. Frozen and dried fruits and vegetables are helpful when fresh are hard to find.

Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Eat them abundantly and eat them with zest.

- Drs. Jyothi Rao and Monica Aggarwal