For Nutritional Punch, You Can't Beat Plant-Based
FRIDAY, Nov. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Those in the know consider
fruits and vegetables among the healthiest foods around.
U.S. government health experts now encourage Americans to fill
half their plates with fruits and vegetables. Weight Watchers' new
system assigns no points to nearly all fruits and vegetables,
making them a truly "guilt-free" option.
But, really, what's the big deal? Why is it so important to eat
Nutritionists can rattle off a long list of reasons when asked
that question. Vegetables and fruits are dense in nutrients but
light on calories. They contain rich amounts of vitamins, minerals,
antioxidants and fiber. Eating more veggies and fruits has been
linked to decreased risk for such health problems as diabetes,
heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.
Despite this, many people seem to have a hard time eating
vegetables, something that's developed the reputation of being a
chore rather than a pleasure. President Barack Obama even likened
the need to finish difficult debt ceiling negotiations to the need
to "eat our peas."
More than nine of 10 Americans consume fewer fruits and
vegetables than the daily amount recommended by the U.S. Department
of Agriculture's dietary guidelines, which ranges from 2 cups to 6½
cups, according to the "Fruits and Veggies -- More Matters" health
initiative, a national program aimed at increasing consumption of
"I would say many of my current clients get maybe a cup of vegetables and maybe a fruit throughout the day, if I'm being generous," said Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Denver and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Getting a serving of vegetables or fruit is not difficult
because a single serving is not a large amount, said Angela Ginn, a
nutrition education coordinator and diabetes educator at the
University of Maryland Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology at
Maryland General Hospital, who's also a spokeswoman for the
American Dietetic Association.
"A whole cup raw or a half-cup cooked is considered a serving for vegetables," Ginn said.
But there's a lot of nutritional power packed into that cup or
half-cup. Though the precise benefit varies by type of fruit or
vegetable, it could include a significant amount of:
- Calcium, which promotes healthy bones and teeth, and is needed
for proper functioning of muscles and nerves.
- Folate, which reduces a woman's chances of having a child with
a birth defect.
- Iron, which is necessary for healthy blood and cell
- Magnesium, which prevents muscle cramping and high blood
pressure and is needed for healthy bones and proper enzymatic
- Potassium, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure.
- Vitamin A, which keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps protect
the body against infection.
- Vitamin C, which aids in healing cuts or wounds and helps keep
teeth and gums healthy.
Even the micronutrients that give fruits and vegetables their
color are important sources of antioxidants, which have been shown
to help prevent an array of diseases.
"Your phytonutrients that have all those vibrant colors, those are things that fight against chronic diseases," Ginn said. "You find them in your fruits and vegetables more in abundance than you will in whole grains or in meat or dairy products."
According to Crandall:
- Blue and purple fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanins,
which have been shown to help fight some cancers and are helpful in
anti-aging and memory function. They are found in blueberries,
blackberries, plums, grapes, figs and raisins.
- Green fruits and vegetables contain luteins, which lower cancer
risk and help promote better vision and strong bones and teeth.
They are found in avocados, kiwi fruit, pears and apples.
- Red fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanins and lycopene,
which can help keep the heart healthy, maintain better memory
function and lower the risk for some cancers.
Fruits and vegetables also contain a large amount of fiber.
Fiber has a number of health benefits and also helps make people
feel more full, reducing their consumption of other higher-calorie
foods, Crandall said.
"Most people think fiber is just good for digestion," she said, "but it's also helpful for lowering cholesterol, keeping your blood sugars stable and helping you feel full throughout your day."
But even those who are already sold on eating more fruits and
veggies sometimes find it tricky to work sufficient amounts into
their day-to-day eating, say both Crandall and Ginn. They suggest
For instance, work veggies into recipes that don't normally
contain them. "It's just the little things you can do, even if you
add grated carrot to your favorite muffin or grated zucchini to
your pancakes," Ginn said. "You can sneak them into your food in
ways where you don't even taste them, but you receive the
They also suggest cutting up fruits and veggies so they're
bite-sized and available for snacking. As Crandall said, "Make a
vegetable tray so they are easier to use, so you don't have a
cucumber rotting in the back of the fridge."
And don't worry about whether you're eating fresh, frozen or
canned vegetables. They're all good for you. Fresh or frozen
vegetables might have slightly more nutrients, Ginn and Crandall
said, but canned veggies are cheaper and available throughout the
year. Just be sure to rinse canned veggies, to reduce the amount of
sodium they contain, or buy low-sodium alternatives.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on
fruits and vegetables into your diet, including
interactive tools, tips and recipes.
For ideas on how to solve the dilemma of consuming enough
vegetables, read about
one woman's story.
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Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.