"Eat your fruits and vegetables" is one of the tried
and true recommendations for a healthy diet. And for good reason.
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help you ward off heart
disease and stroke, control blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent
some types of cancer, avoid a painful intestinal ailment called
"diverticulitis," and guard against cataract and macular
degeneration, two common causes of vision loss.
What does "plenty" mean? If you don't count potatoes
- which should be considered a starch rather than a vegetable
- the average American gets a total of just three servings of fruits
and vegetables a day. The latest dietary guidelines call for five
to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day, depending on
one's caloric intake. For a person who needs 2,000 calories a day
to maintain weight and health, this translates into nine
servings, or 4½ cups per day. How many of us eat,
even close to that amount? Not me!
Over the past 30 years or so, researchers have developed
a solid base of science to back up what generations of mothers preached.
Early on, fruits and vegetables were acclaimed as cancer-fighting
foods. Now, it's supported in part by the National Cancer Institute.
The latest research, though, suggests that the biggest payoff from
eating fruits and vegetables is for the heart.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Cardiovascular Disease
There is compelling evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The largest and longest study to date, done as part of the Harvard-based
Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, included
almost 110,000 men and women whose health and dietary habits were
followed for 14 years. The higher the average daily intake of fruits
and vegetables, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular
disease. Compared with those in the lowest category of fruit and
vegetable intake (less than 1.5 servings a day), those who averaged
8 or more servings a day were 30% less likely to have had a heart
attack or stroke.
Although all fruits and vegetables likely contribute to this benefit,
green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and
mustard greens; cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower,
cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale; and citrus fruits
such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit (and their juices)
make important contributions.
Fruits and Vegetables, Blood Pressure, and Cholesterol
High blood pressure is a primary risk factor for heart disease
and stroke. As such, it's a condition that is very important to
control. Diet can be a very effective tool for lowering blood pressure.
One of the most convincing associations between diet and blood pressure
was found in the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)
study. This trial examined the effect on blood pressure of a diet
that was rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products
and that restricted the amount of saturated and total fat. The researchers
found that people with high blood pressure who followed this diet
reduced their systolic blood pressure (the upper number of a blood
pressure reading) by about 11 mm Hg and their diastolic blood pressure
(the lower number) by almost 6 mm Hg - as much as medications
Eating more fruits and vegetables can also help lower cholesterol.
In the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Family Heart
Study, the 4466 subjects consumed on average a shade over 3 servings
of fruits and vegetables a day. Men and women with the highest daily
consumption (more than 4 servings a day) had significantly lower
levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol than those with lower consumption.
How fruits and vegetables lower cholesterol is still something of
a mystery. It is possible that eating more fruits and vegetables
means eating less meat and dairy products, and thus less cholesterol-boosting
saturated fat. Soluble fiber in fruits and vegetables may also block
the absorption of cholesterol from food.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Cancer
Numerous early studies revealed what appeared to be a strong link
between eating fruits and vegetables and protection against cancer.
Data from cohort studies that follow large groups of initially healthy
individuals for years have not consistently shown that a diet rich
in fruits and vegetables prevents cancer in general. Data from the
Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study support
this finding. Over a 14-year period, men and women with the highest
intake of fruits and vegetables (8+ servings a day) were just as
likely to have developed cancer as those who ate the fewest daily
servings (under 1.5).
A more likely possibility is that fruits and vegetables may protect
against certain cancers. The International Agency for Research on
Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, recently
completed a monumental review of the best research on fruits, vegetables,
and cancer. Here's what this 387-page tome concludes about studies
in humans: "There is limited evidence for a cancer-preventive
effect of consumption of fruit and of vegetables for cancers of
the mouth and pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon-rectum, larynx,
lung, ovary (vegetables only), bladder (fruit only), and kidney.
There is inadequate evidence for a cancer-preventive effect of consumption
of fruit and of vegetables for all other sites." However, considering
all evidence from human epidemiological, animal, and other types
of studies, it appears that eating more fruit "probably lowers
the risk of cancers of the esophagus, stomach and lung" and
"possibly reduces the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx,
colon-rectum, larynx, kidney, and urinary bladder." Eating
more vegetables "probably lowers the risk of cancers of the
esophagus and colon-rectum" and "possibly reduces the
risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, stomach, larynx, lung, ovary
Keep in mind that this is for total fruit and total vegetable consumption
and that, as pointed out by the International Agency for Research
on Cancer, specific fruits and vegetables may protect against specific
types of cancer. For example, a line of research stemming from a
finding from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study suggest that
tomatoes may help protect men against prostate cancer, especially
aggressive forms of it. One of the pigments that give tomatoes their
red hue - lycopene - could be involved in this protective effect.
Although several studies other than the Health Professionals' study
have also demonstrated a link between tomatoes or lycopene and prostate
cancer, others have not or have found only a weak connection. Taken
as a whole, however, these studies suggest that increased consumption
of tomato-based products (especially cooked tomato products) and
other lycopene-containing foods may reduce the occurrence or progression
of prostate cancer. But more research is needed before we know the
exact relationship between fruits and vegetables, carotenoids, and
Fruits, Vegetables, and Gastrointestinal Health
One of the wonderful components of fruits and vegetables is their
indigestible fiber. As fiber passes through the digestive system,
it sops up water like a sponge and expands. This can calm the irritable
bowel and, by triggering regular bowel movements, can relieve or
prevent constipation. The bulking and softening action of insoluble
fiber also decrease pressure inside the intestinal tract and so
may help prevent "diverticulosis" (the development
of tiny, easily irritated pouches inside the colon) and diverticulitis
(the often painful inflammation of these pouches).
Fruits, Vegetables, and Vision
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables also keeps your eyes in
good shape. You may have learned that the vitamin A in carrots aids
night vision. Other fruits and vegetables help prevent two common
aging-related eye diseases - cataract and macular degeneration -
which afflict millions of Americans over age sixty-five. Cataract
is the gradual clouding of the eye's lens, a disk of protein that
focuses light on the light-sensitive retina. Macular degeneration
is caused by cumulative damage to the macula, the center of the
retina. It starts as a blurred spot in the center of what you see.
As the degeneration spreads, vision shrinks.
Free radicals generated by sunlight, cigarette smoke, air pollution,
infection, and metabolism cause much of this damage. Dark green
leafy vegetables contain two pigments, lutein and zeaxanthin, that
accumulate in the eye. These two appear to be able to snuff out
free radicals before they can harm the eye's sensitive tissues.
In general, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
appears to reduce the chances of developing cataract or macular
Recommendations for Fruit and Vegetable Intake
Fruits and vegetables are clearly an important part of a good diet.
Almost everyone can benefit from eating more of them, but variety
is as important as quantity. No single fruit or vegetable provides
all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. The key lies in the
variety of different fruits and vegetables that you eat.
a special link to Dietary Guidelines For Your Children
Some basic fruit and vegetable tips:
* Try to eat more fruits and vegetables. If you need 2,000 calories
a day to maintain your weight and health, aim for at least nine
servings (4½ cups) a day. Otherwise, juice your fruits and
* Choose a variety of different fruits and vegetables. It's easy
to get into a rut when it comes to the food you eat. Break out and
try a wider variety, include dark-green, leafy vegetables; yellow,
orange, and red fruits and vegetables; cooked tomatoes; and citrus
Whole Grains, Their Benefits And Health Bonuses
Find Out About Celiac Disease, Allergies And The Alternatives
Beans, Peas and Lentils Too!
Nuts and Seeds
Have Many Health Benefits And Healing Properties