Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables

You've heard it before -- and you'll hear it again: Eat your fruits and vegetables! There is no doubt that a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables offers a whole host of health benefits, including protection from heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, some types of cancer, eye disease, and gastrointestinal troubles. Eating healthy can be part of an alternative treatment against illness. In addition, fruits and vegetables can even help beat back the effects of aging.

Some fruits and vegetables are good natural sources of vitamin A, while others are rich in vitamin C, folate, and potassium. Almost all are naturally low in fat and calories, none have cholesterol, and many are great sources of fiber. Fruits and vegetables also add wonderful flavors, textures, and colors to your diet.

In this article, we will review the fruits and vegetables in a balanced diet, with an emphasis on the specific foods and eating patterns that provide the best health benefits. Let's get started by reviewing the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

Pick More Produce

The latest MyPyramid guidelines recommend a daily intake of 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables for a person eating a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet. Higher or lower amounts are recommended, depending on your caloric needs.

To cut calories and fat, take extra servings of fruits and vegetables. They are excellent and satisfying substitutes for higher-calorie meats and sweets. Here's what counts as a one-cup serving:

Fruits

  • 1 medium piece of fruit
  • 1 cup cut-up or cooked fruit
  • 1 large banana
  • 1/4 small cantaloupe
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit
  • 1 cup berries or grapes
  • 1 cup 100% fruit juice

Vegetables

  • 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables
  • 2 cups raw leafy vegetables
  • 1 cup baby carrots (approximately 12 carrots)
  • 1 medium potato
  • 1 cup cooked or canned dried beans or peas
  • 1 cup vegetable juice

Not sure which fruits or vegetables have the nutrients or vitamins you need? The next section will explain how a produce's color can give you a good clue.

Eat A Rainbow

If you haven't been eating much in the way of produce, choosing any kind of fruit or vegetable more often is a great start. But to get the biggest bang for your bite, think in color. Choosing assorted colors of fruits and vegetables is a great strategy for making sure you get the most nutritional value from your produce choices. In fact, an eating plan centered around colorful fruits and vegetables receives hearty endorsement from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

In many cases, the deeper and darker the color of the fruit or vegetable, the greater the amount of nutrients it contains. For example, spinach offers eight times more vitamin C than does iceberg lettuce, and a ruby red grapefruit offers 25 times more vitamin A than a white grapefruit. Yet every fruit and vegetable has a unique complement of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients that provide benefits. So it's important to sample from the complete color spectrum as well as to eat a variety within each color group. The following are some ideas to expand your produce palette.

Blue and Purple

These fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of health-promoting phytonutrients, such as polyphenols and anthocyanins. The pigments that give these foods their rich color pack a powerful antioxidant punch. Blue and purple produce give you extra protection against some types of cancer and urinary tract infections, plus they may help boost brain health and vision.

Fruits: Blackberries, blueberries, currants (black), elderberries, figs (purple), grapes (purple), plums, prunes, raisins

Vegetables: Asparagus (purple), Belgian endive (purple), cabbage (purple), carrots (purple), eggplant, peppers (purple),  potatoes (purple-fleshed)

Green

Green fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of potent phytochemicals, such as lutein and indoles, as well as other essential nutrients. These substances can help lower cancer risk, improve eye health, and keep bones and teeth strong.

Fruits: Apples (green), avocados, grapes (green), honeydew, kiwifruit, limes, pears (green)

Vegetables: Artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beans (green), broccoflower, broccoli, broccoli rabe, brussels sprouts, cabbage (Chinese), cabbage (green), celery, Chayote squash, cucumbers, endive, greens (leafy), leeks, lettuce, okra, onions (green), peas (green or English, snow, sugar snap), peppers (green), spinach, watercress, zucchini

White/Tan/Brown

White, tan, and brown fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of phytonutrients, such as allicin, found in the onion family. These fruits and vegetables play a role in heart health by helping you maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and they may lower the risk of some types of cancer.

Fruits: Bananas, dates, nectarines (white), peaches (white), pears (brown)

Vegetables: Cauliflower, corn (white), garlic, ginger, Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, kohlrabi, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes (white-fleshed), shallots, turnips

Yellow and Orange

Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, as well as other phytonutrients, including carotenoids and bioflavonoids. These substances may help promote heart and vision health and a healthy immune system; they may also help to ward off cancer.

Fruits: Apples (yellow), apricots, cantaloupe, cape gooseberries, figs (yellow), grapefruit, kiwifruit (golden), lemons, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears (yellow), persimmons, pineapple, tangerines, watermelon (yellow)

Vegetables: Beets (yellow), carrots, corn (sweet), peppers (yellow), potatoes (yellow), pumpkin, rutabagas, squash (butternut), squash (yellow summer), squash (yellow winter), sweet potatoes, tomatoes (yellow)

Red

Phytonutrients in red produce that have health-promoting properties include lycopene, ellagic acid, and anthocyanins. Red fruits and vegetables may help maintain heart health, memory function, and urinary tract health as well as lower the risk of some types of cancer.

Fruits: Apples (red), cherries, cranberries, grapefruit (pink/red), grapes (red), oranges, pears (red), pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon

Vegetables: Beets, onions (red), peppers (red), potatoes (red), radicchio, radishes, rhubarb, tomatoes

Knowing which fruits and vegetables you need to eat to gain certain nutrients is important. But knowing when to pick them and keep them from spoiling is equally important. Let's review some helpful tips about ripeness and freshness in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Tips To Keep Foods Ripe and Fresh

When shopping for fresh fruits, you'll want to consider ripeness. As fruit ripens, the starch turns to sugar, which gives fruits their characteristic sweet taste. Some fruits continue to ripen after they're harvested, while others do not. Whether or not a fruit continues to ripen determines its storage and shelf life. For fruits that continue to ripen, it's a good idea to select them at varying stages of ripeness so they're not all ripe at the same time.

Fruits that require additional ripening should be stored at room temperature until they reach the desired ripeness. To has ten the ripening of some fruits, such as pears and peaches, put them in a loosely closed paper bag on the counter.

They'll be ready to eat in a day or two. If fruits become overly ripe, instead of tossing them, try trimming any blemishes, then cooking and puréeing the fruit to make sauces for dressings or desserts. Fruits that do not ripen after harvesting should be stored in a cool area, such as the refrigerator, until you are ready to eat them.

Fresh and Beyond

There are lots of easy, nutritious, and affordable ways to enjoy fruits and vegetables all year long:

  • Buy in season. Some types of fresh produce are great buys year-round, such as bananas, apples, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and spinach. Other items are more affordable -- and better tasting -- at certain times of the year. If your community offers a farmer's market, be sure to frequent it for extra-fresh produce.
  • Go for convenience. Try prewashed and/or precut salad greens, baby carrots, and chopped fresh vegetables. The time savings can be huge, and the waste very little.
  • Can it. Canned goods can be a low-cost, convenient way to enjoy your fruits and vegetables. Canned fruits and vegetables are generally comparable in vitamins and fiber to their fresh and frozen counterparts. Look for fruits packed in juice or water. Wash away extra sugar from canned fruits and extra salt from canned vegetables by rinsing them under cold water after opening.
  • Hit the sales. Look for great deals offered by your local grocery store. Often, bargain prices on fruits and vegetables are used to draw in customers. Check the food ads before you shop. Since you're looking for variety, try the items that are on sale, even if some are new to you.
  • Join the cold rush. Flash-freezing fruits and vegetables keeps all the important nutrients locked in tight. Frozen produce is handy to keep in your freezer for whenever you need it. Look for mixtures of vegetables to use in soups or stir-frys or to just steam or microwave and eat. Look for fruits frozen without added sugar.

How you store, clean, and prepare your produce can affect its nutritional benefits. Let's review some helpful tips in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Keeping Your Produce Nutritious

Fruits and vegetables are naturally nutritious. It's how you store, clean, and prepare them that will determine how nutritious they are when you eat them.

Storage

Fresh, properly stored produce will be the most nutritious. To keep produce fresh longer, store it unwashed and uncut. With the exception of a few items, such as garlic, onions, potatoes, and winter squash, fresh produce should be stored in the refrigerator. Most produce items are best stored loose in crisper drawers, which have a slightly higher humidity. If your refrigerator doesn't have a crisper drawer, use moisture-resistant wrap or bags to hold your produce. Fruits and vegetables that have already been cut and/or washed should be covered tightly to prevent vitamin loss and stored on refrigerator shelves.

Cleaning

Wash your produce in clean water. This important step should be done for all fruits and vegetables, even for produce such as melons and oranges that have skin or rinds that you don't plan to eat.

That's because surface dirt or bacteria can contaminate your produce when you cut or peel it.

Plan to wash your produce just before you're ready to eat or cook it to reduce spoilage caused by excess moisture. The one exception is lettuce -- it remains crisp when you wash and refrigerate it for later use. It is not advisable to use detergent when washing fruits and vegetables. Produce is porous and can absorb the detergent, which leaves a soapy residue. Special produce rinses or sprays can help loosen surface dirt and waxes.

Clean thicker-skinned vegetables and fruits with a soft-bristled brush. Peel and discard outer leaves or rinds. If you plan to eat the nutrient-rich skin of hearty vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, scrub the skin well with a soft-bristled brush. For cleaning fragile berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, the best method is to spray them with the kitchen-sink sprayer. Use a colander so dirt and water can drain, and gently turn the fruit as you spray.

Preparation

There are plenty of ways to enjoy fruits and vegetables. Eat them raw whenever possible to get maximum nutrition. For vegetables that require cooking, such as asparagus, green beans, or brussels sprouts, cook as quickly as possible -- just until tender crisp. This helps to minimize loss of nutrients and also helps vegetables retain their bright color and flavor. Cook vegetables (and fruits) in a covered pot with just a little water -- to help create steam that speeds cooking. Or try cooking in the microwave. This fast method of cooking helps to retain nutrients, flavor, and crispness.

Easy Ways to Get Your Helpings

The following are some tips to help you integrate fruits and vegetables throughout your daily routine.

  • Start your day with fruit -- add fresh or dried fruit to cereal, yogurt, pancakes, or waffles, or just enjoy it by itself.
  • Mix chopped vegetables into scrambled eggs, or fold them into an omelet.
  • First, freeze fresh fruits, such as grapes, blueberries, and chunks of bananas, peaches, or mango. Then, enjoy them as a refreshing snack, or mix them with yogurt and juice in a blender to make a smoothie.
  • Snack on a trail mix of crunchy, whole-grain cereal, dried fruits, and chopped, toasted almonds.
  • Bring a prepackaged fruit cup, box of raisins, or piece of fruit with you to work or school for an energy-boosting snack.
  • For a shortcut fruit salad, open two or more cans of chopped or sliced fruit and add some fresh or frozen fruits for a tasty and refreshing snack or meal accompaniment.
  • Stuff a pita pocket with veggie chunks and sprouts, and drizzle on a low-fat ranch dressing.
  • Toss pasta or rice with leftover vegetables, low-fat vinaigrette, and a sprinkling of shredded cheese or toasted pine nuts or almonds.
  • Sneak in some extra helpings of produce by adding finely chopped vegetables, such as carrots, eggplant, broccoli, or cauliflower, to marinara sauce, soups, stews, and chili.
  • Roast your vegetables for a deep, rich flavor. Drizzle them with a little olive oil, and roast in an oven set to 425 degrees Fahrenheit or on the grill until tender. Try carrots, asparagus, butternut squash, eggplant, broccoli -- or just about any vegetable that strikes your fancy!

Now that you know the right colorful combination of fruits and vegetables, you can make more informed decisions that can help you beat aging and strengthen your body against illnesses. ©Publications International, Ltd.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.