Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber that your body needs. They're also packed with hundreds of disease-fighting phytochemicals - natural substances that work as a team to protect good health. Only fruits and vegetables, not pills or supplements, can provide all of these nutrients together. While the exact mechanisms of specific phytochemicals are being studied, one thing is clear: the different colors of fruits and vegetables - green, yellow-orange, red, blue-purple, and white - all contain a unique array of disease-fighting phytochemicals that work together with vitamins and minerals to protect our health.
Here are just a few examples of the phytochemicals found in various fruits and vegetables:
- Carotenoids from red and yellow-orange fruits and vegetables (such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots)
- Lycopene in tomato-based foods (such as tomato sauce, tomato paste)
- Lutein and zeaxanthin in leafy greens (such as spinach, romaine lettuce)
- Flavonoids in brightly colored fruits and vegetables (such as blueberries, cherries, strawberries)
Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in calories and fat. And many contain lots of water and fiber to give you a feeling of fullness. Combined with an active lifestyle and low-fat diet, eating greater amounts of fruits and vegetables and fewer high-calorie foods at meals can help you control your weight.
Consider the following:
- Eating the recommended servings of vegetables and fewer high-calorie foods at meals may help reduce calorie intake without increased hunger. People feel full on fewer calories when they substitute greater portions of other foods with vegetables at their meals.
Heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and diabetes account for about three-quarters of all deaths in the United States. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat is associated with reduced risk for these diseases.
Cancer: People whose diets are rich in fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of getting many cancers (lung, mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon, and rectum). They are also less likely to get cancers of the breast, pancreas, larynx, and bladder.
High blood pressure: According to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Study, when people with elevated blood pressure followed an eating plan that emphasizes fruits and vegetables (8 to 10 servings a day) and low-fat dairy foods (2 to 3 servings a day) as part of a healthy diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat, they lowered their blood pressure within a month. In addition, those who had the lowest sodium intake had the greatest fall in blood pressure.
The DASH study also showed the eating plan to be beneficial for people with hypertension and those wishing to prevent high blood pressure. In addition to being rich in fruits and vegetables (8 to 10 servings a day) and emphasizing low-fat dairy foods (2 to 3 servings a day), the DASH eating plan also includes moderate amounts of whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts and limited amounts of red meat, sweets, and sugar-containing beverages. For more information, please see the DASH Diet article.
Stroke: Recent studies have reported that eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk for having a stroke.
Heart disease: Heart-healthy diets are rich in fruits and vegetables (8 to 10 servings a day), low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and emphasize low-fat dairy foods and whole grains. Such diets can significantly lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk for having heart disease.
Diabetes: Obesity and diet are strong risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. Therefore, it is important to stay at a healthy weight by getting adequate physical activity and eating a healthy diet that includes daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
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Source: National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov)