Fruit and Vegetables
Research suggests that increasing our consumption of fruit and vegetables can significantly reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. It has been estimated that eating at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day could reduce the risk of death from chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer by up to 20% .
Recent studies, however, show that only 1 in 7 of us achieve the five a day quota. Therefore, I’m sure you’ll agree, we ought to be making a more concentrated effort in reaching these guidelines.
What are some of the beneficial components in fruits and vegetables?
- Vitamins – fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K, water-soluble vitamins – B and C
- Minerals – major minerals – calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus; those needed in small amounts – iron, zinc, iodine, selenium and copper
- Folate (folic acid)
- Antioxidants – vitamin C, flavonoids, phenols, carotenoids, lycopene
- Fiber – soluble and insoluble
All fruit and vegetables (except potatoes) can be counted as a portion in our five a day. 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice will also count as one portion. Fruit and vegetables may be eaten raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Click here to find out what can be considered a portion.
What are these nutrients specifically beneficial for?
- Vitamin C – important for growth and repair of all body tissues, helps heal cuts and wounds, and keeps teeth and gums healthy
- Potassium – helps prevent stroke and high blood pressure; may reduce the risk of kidney stones and is also beneficial for bone health
- Magnesium – beneficial for bone health
- Folate (folic acid) – aids the body in the production of red blood cells; helps prevent infant birth defects, cancer, and heart disease
- Antioxidants – beneficial for preventing cancer, heart disease, and stroke
- Fibre – soluble fibre: preventing heart disease and diabetes; insoluble fibre: shown to improve bowel habits
Additional benefits of fruit and vegetables:
- Low fat
- Low energy
- Low sodium
As we can see fruit and vegetables are extremely good for us! The Department of Health state that these benefits stem, not only from the individual components, but also from the interactions between these components. Dietary supplements containing isolated vitamins or minerals do not appear to have the same beneficial effects as fruit and vegetables themselves. Indeed, supplements may even cause more harm than good. Therefore, studies appear to suggest that eating whole fruit and vegetables is much more beneficial.
Vegetables are organized into five subgroups, based on their nutrient content. These are:
- Dark green vegetables – such as, bok choy, broccoli, dark green leafy lettuce, kale, spinach, and watercress
- Orange vegetables – such as, squash, carrots, pumpkin, (sweetpotato – included in the carbohydrate group)
- Dry beans and peas – such as, black beans, chick peas, kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans, soy beans, tofu, and white beans
- Starchy vegetables – such as, corn, green peas, (potato – included in the carbohydrate group)
- Other vegetables – such as, asparagus, bean sprouts, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, green and red peppers, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, tomatoes, and turnip
See the USDA MyPyramid for a full list.
Colour is the key
As I’ve previously stated, maximum protection comes from eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Try to select many colourful varieties each day to get the full health benefits.
If you would like to find out which nutrients are provided by specific fruits and vegetables, the Dole Food Company have produced a Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition Facts Chart, which you may find useful. I wouldn’t, however, recommend that you get too bogged down with eating specific foods for specific nutrients. Providing you eat a balanced diet, with a wide range of healthy foods, you should be getting the required nutrients. The chart is, however, useful as a guide.
- Department of Health (2000) The NHS Plan. London: Department of Health