Dr. Chris Bonin
To give you an idea of just how important fruits and vegetables are, here is a quick overview of some of the many ways fruits and vegetables affect our health.
Increasing your daily intake of fruits and vegetables can:
- decrease your chances of having a heart attack or stroke
- lower your blood pressure
- help you avoid constipation and the painful intestinal ailment called diverticulitis
- guard against two common aging-related eye diseases - cataract, and macular degeneration
- delay or prevent memory loss and a decline in thinking skills
- help you feel full with fewer calories and so control your weight and waistline
One of the main causes of heart disease and stroke is high blood pressure. High blood pressure affects more than 50 million Americans today. Study after study shows that eating more fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure without the side effects and cost of medications! Even better, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help prevent high blood pressure in the first place.
The other main cause of heart disease and stroke, high cholesterol, also responds to a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. A diet high in fruits and vegetables results in lower cholesterol levels.
One extra serving per day can make all of the difference! In fact, studies calculate that by simply eating one extra serving of fruits or vegetables a day decreases the chance of having a stroke by about 6 percent. And eating about thirty servings of fruits and vegetables a week (or just fewer than 5 a day) can lower the risk of the most common type of stroke by 30%!
So what exactly does it mean to "get plenty of fruits and vegetables?" Back in 1991, the National Cancer Institute launched its 5-a Day public health campaign, promoting the consumption of 5 servings of fruits/vegetables a day. Although this is a good starting goal for the average American, the reality is that 5 servings a day should be the minimum. The reality is that men should be consuming at least 9 servings each day, and women should be consuming at least 7 servings each day.
It is all about the colors! There are thousands of health promoting phytochemicals found in plants. Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties. But we can't get these benefits by eating one particular plant. In fact, to receive all the healing benefits from fruits and vegetables, it's important to eat a wide variety of colorful orange/yellow, red, green, white, and blue/purple vegetables and fruit every day.
By eating vegetables and fruits from each color group, you will benefit from the unique array of phytochemicals, as well as essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that each color group has to offer alone and in combination. For the specifics, let's start with the color red.
When you add deep reds or bright pinks to your daily diet, you are also adding a powerful antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene is found in tomatoes, red and pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya and guava. Diets rich in lycopene are believed to be helpful in fighting heart disease and some cancers.
Now let's talk about green. What makes green vegetables so healthy? One reason is that they are packed with luteins, an antioxidant found in green, leafy vegetables that are believed to help in maintaining good vision by keeping your retina strong.
Indoles are another group of phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Indoles are believed to have a role in helping protect against breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Next is the orange/yellow group. Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant, along with vitamin C & E that plays a role in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, maintaining good eyesight, boosting your immune system and slowing aging. Orange vegetables and fruits like sweet potatoes, mangos, carrots, and apricots, contain beta-carotene.
Bright yellows have many of the same perks as the orange groups: high in essential vitamins and carotenoids. Pineapple, for example, is rich with Vitamin C, manganese, and the natural enzyme, bromelain.
What about white fruits and vegetables? Included in the white color group are vegetables from the onion family, which include garlic, chives, scallions, leeks, and any variety of onion. These foods contain the phytochemical allicin, which is believed to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and increase the body's ability to fight infections.
And finally blue/purple. Blues and purples not only add beautiful shades of tranquility and richness to your plate, they add health-enhancing flavonoids, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. The phytochemical known as Anthocyanins are pigments responsible for the blue color in vegetables and fruits, and are being studied for their role in the body's defense of harmful carcinogens. Blueberries, in particular, are not only rich in Vitamin C and folic acid and high in fiber and potassium, but they are proven to be the #1 source of antioxidants of any food available today.
The next time you buy your produce, we challenge you to purchase 5 different colors of fruits and vegetables to get the full compliment of phytochemicals you need in your diet!
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