“Eat more fruits and vegetables” is what we are often told. Lest you continue putting aside your fruits and veggies, or eat just bits and pieces only, this which may seem to be so elementary and redundant to many, may serve at least to remind. The contribution of fruits and veggies to healthy diet, and that of the nutrients therein to efficient body processes are enough reasons to give these foods attention. The Filipino Food Pyramid suggests consumption of 3 servings of vegetables and 2-3 servings of fruits everyday by adolescents, adults, elderly, pregnant and lactating women as part of a healthy diet.
Apart from providing a range of colors and textures making food more appealing, fruits and vegetables can do wonders. Primarily, fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients we need to supply our body with everyday – the vitamins and minerals which regulate a variety of body processes. Notable are vitamin A in green and yellow ones, vitamin C, potassium. Water-soluble vitamins B and C, are not stored in the body thus need to be provided by foods we eat everyday. Most of the B vitamins are needed so that the food we eat can be converted to energy. Vegetable oils are good sources of vitamin E, which is an antioxidant. Some nutrients are lost depending on food handling from harvest to cooking.
Whole grains, fruits and legumes contain fiber which is that part of food that remains undigested. Fiber makes one feel full. Likened to a dishwashing sponge, fiber absorbs water, cholesterol and some other substances as it passes through the digestive tract. It “sweeps” the gut and is thus essential in the maintenance of bowel health, a component in the prevention and management of constipation and colon cancer, some other intestinal diseases, diabetes mellitus, colon cancer.
Cholesterol is found only in animal products hence absent in plants. Plant cell membranes are natural sources of phytosterols which have a similar structure with the body’s cholesterol. In effect, sterols block cholesterol absorption. This is one mechanism for the protective effects of plants when it comes to cardiovascular problems.
Fruits and veggies are low in calories making them an important part of weight management. One serving of fruits (1 piece lakatan, one regular slice of pineapple/papaya/watermelon; 3 tablespoons fruit cocktail), provide 40 kilocalories only while one serving (1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup uncooked) of vegetables provide 16 kilocalories.
Antioxidants believed to protect the body from excessive free radicals and prevent some chronic illnesses and effects of aging, are abundant in whole grains, unprocessed fruits and veggies. Apart from beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamins A, C and E, plants are also rich in phenolic compounds like quercetin in onions and apples, catechins in tea and berries, resveratrol in grapes, peanuts and berries, coumaric acid and anthocyanins among others.
Note however that nutrients and other plant properties like antioxidant properties work in combination with others. They do not fix nor prevent problems by themselves, hence foods rich in them are to be taken in the context of the whole diet, a healthy one for that matter and also in combination with healthy lifestyle.