by Mary Saucier Choate, M.S., R.D., L.D.
Co-op Food and Nutrition Educator
Vegetables and fruits– is there anything they can’t do? As more and more disease-preventing benefits of fruits and vegetables are discovered, health organizations are more insistently than ever encouraging Americans to eat their produce.
Vegetables and fruits are major contributors of the nutrients we need more of: folate, magnesium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K. in addition, researchers are still discovering all of the beneficial compounds in produce called phytochemicals. “Phyto” means plant. A phytochemical is a natural, biologically active compound found in plant foods that works to protect against disease. So far, we know that they can act as antioxidants, cholesterol reducers, detoxifiers, vision protectors, and cancer and heart disease fighters. Numerous studies indicate that phytochemicals, working together with nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts, may help slow the aging process and reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, macular degeneration, and high blood pressure.
Even dried fruits and vegetables keep all of their minerals and fiber, and their disease-fighting phytochemicals remain extremely potent. In fact, of the fruits tested for their antioxidant effect by Tufts researchers, dried plums (prunes) and raisins were rated numbers one and two!
Getting these nutrients from foods instead of pills provides them in the right amount and usually in their most effective form. Don’t fall for the claims of food–based vitamin manufacturers- there is no way to get the entire complex of nutrients from whole plant foods into a pill. Eat real food to get real nutrition. While supplements have been studied and often found wanting, studies of people eating real vegetables and fruits show a reduced risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes, and may protect against certain cancers.
Ready to get more fruits and vegetables in to your life? These ideas may help:
Try a cup of vegetable juice, such as low sodium V8, carrot, or tomato. If you have a juicer, and are adventurous, you can make some delicious fruit and vegetables combinations. Try these: 2 oranges/1/4 cup spinach/1/4 cup parsley or this one: 3 tomatoes/1/2 cup beet leaves/1 slice lemon (peel removed). A cup of 100% juice is fine, but whole fruits and vegetables, which include the high fiber skins, are important to focus on.
Fresh raw veggies alone or with a salad dressing dip are a surprisingly good choice. Many people, and especially children, will eat more vegetables this way. The added oil from the dressing also helps the body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, and K) in the vegetables. Baby carrots need no prep. If you have time, cut up a red pepper and a celery stalk, or try crunchy and mild peeled and sliced jicama or licorice-scented slices of fennel.
Vegetable soup is a super quick choice.
Kids (and adults) love “ants on a log”. Stuff celery stalks with peanut or other nut butter, sprinkle with raisins, dried cranberries, or other chopped dried fruit, and serve.
Sliced strawberries, banana, berries or dried raisins or dates to top your hot or cold cereal.
Sliced banana to your toasted peanut butter and jelly on whole-grain sandwich.
Spread a slice of whole-grain toast with almond butter. Sprinkle with dried cranberries.
In a tightly covered cup, shake ½ cup orange juice and ½ cup ice-cold vanilla soymilk together. It tastes like a creamsicle!
It’s worth it to try different fruits and vegetables to find the ones you enjoy. They are key foods in a healthy eating plan.
Got a child who won’t try vegetables and fruits? Ellyn Satter helps families get back on track with healthy eating without the food fights. www.ellynsatter.com
The American Institute for Cancer Research you’ll find news, research updates, recipes, free publications, and tips for good health — information to help you live a healthier, cancer-free life. www.aicr.org
Foods that score high in an antioxidant analysis called Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) may protect cells and their components from damage. This is an article on research being done at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts in Boston. www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/1999/990208.htm
Learn about all the wonderful New England apple varieties, including which are best for baking and for eating, from the experts at the New England Apple Association. You’ll also find apple recipes and much more. www.newenglandapples.org
The Produce for Better Health Foundation offers recipes that promote fruit and vegetables and are low in fat and cholesterol; fruit and vegetable nutrition information; and 5 A Day Catalog offers. www.pbhfoundation.org/recipes