Research shows that people who eat even 2½ cups of fruits and vegetables a day have only half the cancer risk of those who eat less than one cup a day. Hundreds of studies show that increased fruit and vegetable consumption may also help prevent heart disease, stroke, hypertension, birth defects, cataracts, diabetes, obesity and other serious conditions.
Fruits and vegetables are nutritional powerhouses which:
Are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals and contain disease fighting fiber
Contain antioxidants and phytochemicals
Are virtually fat-free (exceptions: coconut, olives & avocado) and cholesterol-free
Are helpful in weight management, due to their high-fiber, high-water, and low-fat content
Vitamins and minerals: Are essential in maintaining the health of the brain, heart, bones, teeth and nerves; making/repairing red blood cells; regulating body’s balance of fluids; and in other vital functions.
Many fruits and vegetables are particularly good sources of vitamins A, C, E and K, some B vitamins, and many important minerals needed for healthy bodies. Beta-carotene and related compounds called carotenoids are converted by the body to Vitamin A. Carotenoids are found in high concentrations in carrots and other orange and yellow vegetables and fruits such as winter squash and cantaloupes. Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and other members of the cabbage family, also contain high concentrations of carotenoids.
Dark green vegetables are also excellent sources of folic acid (a B vitamin needed during pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural defects in the fetus), Vitamins E and K, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, and potassium. Many fruits are also a good source of minerals, such as chromium (grapes), iron (cherries), manganese (pineapple), and potassium (apricots, bananas, orange juice, peaches and prunes).
Citrus fruits are good sources of Vitamin C, as is the family of plants that includes tomatoes, red and green peppers, potatoes, and eggplant. Other good sources of Vitamin C include papayas, strawberries, kiwis, cantaloupe, and the cabbage family, including broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
While there is overlap in the vitamins/minerals supplied by fruits and vegetables, you need a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to fully benefit from the various nutrients they contain.
Antioxidants: Disease-fighting compounds found in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals (compounds that damage cells and lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer, cataracts, premature aging, and impaired immunity.) Antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E; beta carotene, minerals (selenium, copper, zinc, and manganese) and some of the phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals: From plants, “plant chemicals” are recognized as powerful disease-fighting compounds. Fruits and vegetables contain thousands of different phytochemical compounds. Categorized as carotenoids, flavenoids (compounds that give flavor/colors to fruit/veg), and other compounds, such as allicin, indoles, lycopenes, lutein, and phenols. Scientists studying phytochemicals are finding an impressive range of health benefits.
Color & Examples
Red: apples, cherries, strawberries, watermelon, beets, red peppers, radicchio, tomatoes
Phytochemical examples: Lycopene, anthocyanins
Potential benefits: Maintain memory function, heart health urinary tract health; reduce blood pressure, fight infections, and reduce risk of some cancers
Orange/yellow: apricots, mangos, oranges, peaches, pineapple, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, winter squash
Phytochemical examples: Carotenoids, bioflavonoids
Potential benefits: Maintain health of heart, eyes, and immune system, slow aging, and reduce risk of some cancers
Green: leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, green beans, peas, spinach, honeydew, kiwi, avocados
Phytochemical examples:Lutein, indoles, carotenoids
Potential benefits: Improve vision, strengthen bones and teeth, and reduce risk of some cancers
Blue/purple: blueberries, blackberries, purple grapes, plums, eggplant, purple cabbage
Phytochemical examples: Anthocyanins, phenolics, resveratrol
Potential benefits: Facilitate healthier aging, enhance memory function, urinary tract health and cardiovascular health and reduce risk of some cancers
White/tan/brown: onions, garlic, cauliflower, turnips, mushrooms, potatoes, bananas, pears, dates
Phytochemical examples: Allicin, quercetin, sulphoraphane
Potential benefits: Improve heart health, maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and reduce risk of some cancers
Not all foods listed above, even within the same group, have the same health benefits. Foods with the same phytochemicals may contain different concentrations of the phytochemicals, and the compounds may be absorbed differently. Even different varieties of foods within the same category (such as different varieties of apples or lettuce) may contain widely varying concentrations and kinds of phytochemicals. However, those darker in color usually contain higher concentrations. So think “more color and more variety” in making your selections!
What is considered one serving of fruit?
• 1 medium whole fruit (apple, banana)
• ½ cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit
• 6 oz. (¾ cup) 100% fruit juice
• ¼ cup of dried fruit
What is considered one serving of vegetables?
• 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables
• ½ cup cut up fresh, frozen or canned vegetables
• 6 oz. (¾ cup) 100% vegetable juice
• ½ cup cooked beans, peas, or lentils
How Can I Get More…Fruits and Vegetables in My Diet?
• Top your hot or cold cereal with fresh fruit.
• Enjoy a glass of 100% real fruit or vegetable juice with breakfast.
• Make smoothies with fresh or frozen fruits and juices for a great breakfast or lunch choice.
• Choose hundred percent fruit and vegetable juices as delicious alternatives to soft drinks.
• At dinner, include salad/raw veggies; use low-fat or non-fat dressing to reduce fat and calories.
• Steamed vegetables are always a good side dish.
• Add vegetables to your favorite entrees, like tacos, lasagna, casseroles, and pasta dishes.
• Add pureed vegetables to sauces to fortify them.
• Try more vegetarian meals, like tofu, rice or pasta with vegetables, and Asian stir-fry dishes.
• For dessert, bake sweet potatoes, apples, peaches, pears, or bananas, or make fruit cobblers.
• Discover some of the many cookbooks that specialize in fruits and vegetable recipes.
• For a snack or when you’re on the go:
• Choose fruits and vegetables that can be eaten out of hand, like apple wedges, baby carrots, broccoli spears, or cherry tomatoes, grapes, bananas, and seasonal items like peaches and plums.
• In place of candy, choose dried fruit (easily packs in a bag/take on the road or eat at office.
When dining out:
• Order a dinner salad to begin your meal.
• Request an extra serving of vegetables as a side dish.
• Order meals that include vegetables or fruits as a major component. To keep fat and calories in check, request vegetables steamed without the addition of butter, oil or cream sauce.
• Ask for extra lettuce and tomato (or other vegetables) on sandwiches and burgers.
• Choose healthful desserts; fresh fruit, sherbet, sorbet, or angel food cake topped with fruit.
• Choose dishes on the nutrition charts of Healthy Dining Finder that have more servings of fruits/vegetables.