Whether you love them or loathe them, we all know fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. But it’s always good to get a reminder of exactly why produce is your pal. I shared the top reasons why it’s important to consume fruits and vegetables in a recent talk for WYAO Hawaii.
Fruits and vegetables help prevent disease
A recent article outlines the current evidence with regards to fruit and vegetable intake and disease.
When it comes to avoiding disease, fruits and vegetables are powerful defenders. This is largely because of their micronutrient content. Vitamins and minerals play in an important role in so many processes in the body and a lack of certain micronutrients can leave you vulnerable. Fruits and vegetables tend to be especially high in antioxidants. Antioxidants help limit cellular damage and because of this, they help prevent certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases.
Antioxidants like Vitamins A and C are abundant in many fruits and vegetables and you definitely want these as part of your defense team. The aforementioned article points out the content of such bioactive compounds in fruits and vegetables, which are known to be responsible for changes in health status and are an important part of health promotion.
The same article mentioned previously provides a useful review of the science regarding fruit and vegetable intake and cancer prevention. The authors note that nutrition is an important part of cancer prevention and treatment, and that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is well justified. The authors present the state of the science for specific types of cancer. They mention the beneficial effects of intake of fruit and vegetables on colorectal and lung cancer risk, among others.
Cardiovascular disease prevention
The authors also present the results of numerous studies showing beneficial effects of fruit and vegetables intake with regards to cardiovascular disease prevention. One study, for example, observed inverse associations between cardiovascular disease and intake of apples/pears, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables/salads, and cruciferous vegetables.
The article also outlines some results showing benefits to bone development with higher intakes of fruit and vegetables in children. The authors also present studies suggesting that higher fruit and vegetables intake may benefit bone maintenance later in life.
Fruits and vegetables are good for your gut
Christi Buck, RD, also known as the “Gut RD,” suggests eating a diverse diet full of antioxidant foods (i.e. blueberries), anti-inflammatory foods (i.e. ginger), and probiotic foods (i.e. cultured vegetables), and fermented foods (i.e. sauerkraut, kimchee, etc) to foster gut health. I already discussed antioxidants above–let’s touch on the other important characteristics she mentions.
First, let’s talk briefly about anti-inflammatory foods. Plant-based diets have been shown to reduce inflammatory markers. A recent study that involved increasing fruit and vegetable intake showed that markers of inflammation were reduced. Harvard Women’s Health Watch provides a handy list of anti-inflammatory foods, and you’ll note the fruits and vegetables listed there.
Next, probiotics. Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” Probiotics can positively influence the gut for prevention of obesity and chronic disease.
Finally, fermented foods. According to a recent article, fermented food can be considered a potential delivery system for probiotics in the sense that this type of food contains living bacteria of potential interest for human health. It’s also worth mentioning prebiotics as another key term. Prebiotics are defined as “a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit”. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria in the gut. As an example, resistant starch, found in bananas, works as a prebiotic to improve gut health.
Fruits and vegetables help you maintain a healthy weight
One reason fruits and vegetables are helpful for weight loss and weight maintenance is their high fiber content. Foods that are high in fiber help you feel full longer which makes portion control easier. In contrast, highly processed foods without much fiber like candy don’t really satiate, making it harder to stop after just one. In addition, fiber promotes healthy digestion by speeding the contents of your intestines, preventing constipation, and lowering risk of damage to the intestinal tract. Finally, fiber provides very little in the way of calories and passes through undigested.
Fiber isn’t the only reason why fruits and vegetables help with maintaining a healthy weight; they are also high in water content. Water has no calories and is important to many body processes. Because fruits and vegetables have plenty of fiber and water, they are generally very low in calories. This helps keep our overall energy intake under control.
Fruits and vegetables can make the diet more exciting
Contrary to popular belief, fruits and vegetables are a delicious part of the diet and can contribute to your enjoyment of food. I love to incorporate fruits and veggies in so many forms. One of my recent finds is a beet sauerkraut. This is a delicious addition to many dishes and enhances the taste of my meals while also providing lots of nutritional benefits. I give some additional tips on how to keep your diet interesting in this post on four tips for healthy eaters.
How to get enough fruits and veggies
About 85% of the US population does not get enough fruit in the diet on a daily basis. Almost 90% of the US population does not consume enough vegetables. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide recommendations for the amount of fruit and vegetables needed in the diet according to how many calories you consume. For someone consuming 2000 calories per day, the recommendation is 2.5 cup equivalents of vegetables and 2 cup equivalents of fruit. A list of examples is provided for both fruits and vegetables so you can see what counts in these categories.
The visual found here helps clarify how much of every meal should come from this important category. Generally, at least half your plate should be made up of vegetables and fruit.
If you’re looking for some ideas with regards to incorporating fruits and vegetables into your diet, I provide plenty of examples. With regards to fruit, some of the quick and easy dessert ideas involve fruit such as raspberries, bananas and more. I also give ideas for healthy sweet snacks, and some of my suggestions involve dried fruit such as goji berries and raisins. With regards to vegetables, some of my high-fiber snack suggestions are useful, such as carrot sticks with peanut butter. You can even incorporate vegetables as an alternative to bread–using portobello mushrooms as burger buns is one idea. Melissa Mitri, MS, RD, also gives some useful tips on how to incorporate more vegetables in the diet in this post, including adding some veggies at breakfast.
When it comes to produce, eating local is always ideal. Luckily, there are plenty of easy options to access high-quality produce locally here in Hawaii. Check out these resources to get started:
- Oahu Fresh – This network of local farmers can deliver produce right to your door.
- Mao Organic Farms CSA – This CSA program lets you pick up a box of locally-grown, organic fruits and veggies periodically.
- Down to Earth – This shopping option allows for in-store, pick-up, or delivery of locally grown organic produce.
If you want to stay healthy, prevent disease, maintain a healthy weight, and generally feel great, then fruits and veggies are a great first step!
Have questions? Comments? I would love to hear what you think below!