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Fruits and Vegetables

In March, CNN published an article about an new study by the American Heart Association. It says we should eat two fruits and three vegetable servings a day, minimum for our heart health.

It’s no secret that most of us could probably stand to eat more fruits and vegetables. Now, there’s more incentive than ever to do so, as a new analysis finds that eating more than five servings of fruits and veggies per day can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and early death.

Other researchers, in a study by Imperial College in London. found the greatest benefit came from eating 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day. They estimate that if everyone ate this amount– approximately 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide could be prevented. Green leafy vegetables rich in beta carotene and vitamin C, such as spinach, leafy green lettuce and kale, along with carrots, did show benefits.

In the fruit category, fruits packed with beta carotene and vitamin C, such as berries of all kinds and citrus fruits, also helped reduce risk of death and chronic disease. This was a complex analysis of 95 studies; “We wanted to investigate how much fruit and vegetables you need to eat to gain the maximum protection against disease, and premature death,” Dr. Dagfinn Aune, lead author of the research from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said in a statement. “Our results suggest that although five portions of fruit and vegetables is good, ten a day is even better.”

The research team took into account various factors such as a person’s weight, smoking habits, physical activity levels, and overall diet, but the benefits of fruits and vegetables remained.

Are some fruits and vegetables better than others? The authors were able to identify certain types that may reduce the risk of specific diseases.

For example, apples and pears; citrus fruits; salads and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and chicory; and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower may all help in the prevention of heart disease, stroke, and early death.

The analysis also showed that green vegetables, such as spinach or green beans; yellow vegetables, such as peppers and carrots; and cruciferous vegetables may help reduce cancer risk.

Research has also shown that compounds called glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, activate enzymes that may help prevent cancer. Additionally, fruits and vegetables may have a beneficial effect on the naturally occurring bacteria in our gut.

“Most likely it is the whole package of beneficial nutrients you obtain by eating fruits and vegetables that is crucial is health,” he said. “This is why it is important to eat whole plant foods to get the benefit.

The following photos and descriptions here are reproduced from Nutrition Action Healthletter, published by Center for Science in the Public Interest. It is my favorite nutrition magazine, but I wanted to share the photos with you.

You don’t find many foods with just 10 to 50 calories per serving. Talk about an almost-free lunch. Vegetables are mostly water, so unless you smother them with dressing, sauce, butter, or sauté oils, they’re a steal.

And now you can replace boring white rice with “rice” made of cauliflower, or trade your pasta for zucchini spirals – the calories drop from 200 to 20 per cup. Or swap your wrap for one made of lettuce. Walking in the door famished? Grab a handful of carrots or grape tomatoes or sugar snap peas to munch on as you cook dinner.

Vegetables also may protect your eyes. Many vegetables, especially leafy greens, are rich in lutein and its twin, zeaxanthin. Although the evidence isn’t sewn up, both clearly matter for eyes.

They are the only carotenoids in the lens and the retina, where they absorb damaging light and protect against oxidation. And levels are 100-fold higher in the macula (the center of the retina) – which lets us see the finest detail and is exposed to the most light – than elsewhere in the eye.

In a study that tracked some 100,000 men and women for roughly 25 years, those who consumed the most lutein plus zeaxanthin had a 40 percent lower risk of advanced macular degeneration than those who consumed the least.3

A similar study found an 18 percent lower risk of cataracts in women who reported eating the most lutein.4 Go greens!

Potassium helps lower blood pressure, and it may also make blood vessels less stiff. That could explain why people who eat more high potassium foods have a lower risk of stroke.5

But getting enough potassium – 4,700 milligrams a day – is a tall order. That is, unless you cover half your plate with vegetables (or fruit), which pour on the potassium without a load of calories.

In some studies, people who eat more leafy greens have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Magnesium may explain why.6

Half the population gets less magnesium than experts recommend. Although more studies are needed, magnesium may help keep a lid on blood sugar.

Magnesium is at the heart of the chlorophyll molecule that makes leaves green, so bring on the spinach, etc.

When researchers pooled data on roughly 142,000 European and U.S. residents aged 60 or older, those who ate no more than one serving of vegetables a day had a 12 percent higher risk of hip fracture than those who ate about two to three servings.7

It’s too early to tell how – or if – veggies help keep bones strong. Stay tuned.

All veggies are good for you in one way or another.  Some, though, are richer in nutrients than others. And they make us feel full, give us a lot of crunch, and make us feel great! What a bargain!

And who cares if a vegetable like mushrooms brings up the rear? They boost your potassium for hardly any calories. As for shiitakes and portobellos: Who could live without ‘em?

One more thing: our scores give no credit for phytochemicals that may eventually turn out to matter. Mushroom ragù. Braised greens. Roasted parsnips, radishes, and carrots. Grilled cauliflower steaks. Please let’s experiment and enjoy!

1 Int. J. Epidemiol. 46: 1029, 2017.
2 J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 105: 219, 2013.
3 JAMA Ophthalmol. 133: 1415, 2015.
4 Arch. Ophthalmol. 126: 102, 2008.
5 Stroke 45: 2874, 2014.
6 Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 66: 1082, 2012.
7 J. Bone Miner. Res. 31: 1743, 2016.

This article is very different from others I have written. Please comment. Did you enjoy this? What else would you like to hear about? What do you want to know about food and nutrition?

Blessings to you,

Have a beautiful week.

Theresa

4 Responses to Fruits and Vegetables

  1. Kathy Burke-Howe May 11, 2021 at 11:12 am #

    This article is really helpful! I’m printing it out to consult along with making grocery lists. So happy to see my favorite vegetable of all time, artichoke, show up on these pictures more than once. 🙂

    • H. Theresa Wright June 1, 2021 at 11:50 pm #

      I am so very glad you liked it!

  2. Robin Brown May 11, 2021 at 12:41 pm #

    What’s a serving? Robin B

    • H. Theresa Wright June 1, 2021 at 11:52 pm #

      Depends on your food plan. Usually 1 cup; but a cup of lettuce weighs about an ounce and a half, and a cup of carrots weighs about five ounces…..but if you squish, maybe a bit more. Think through this. What is the goal and what will help me reach it consistently?

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