Remember when your mom kept prodding you to eat your greens and fruits — often much to your chagrin? Turns out she was right all along. As a matter of fact, nutritional experts recommend filling half your plate with fruit/greens during your meals. And for good reason too: No diet can be considered well-balanced or complete without vegetables and fruits. If you’re still not convinced, take a look at a few key ways in which these two foods help you stay healthy.
Fruits and Veggies Provide Crucial Vitamins
The human body requires a handful of vitamins to survive and stay healthy. Vitamins play all kinds of roles, from facilitating the extraction of energy to fortifying the immune system. This explains why it’s strongly recommended to ensure you hit your RDAs — or recommended dietary allowances — in a consistent fashion when it comes to vitamins.
Even as more and more people opt for supplements to help them achieve this, the fact is that you cannot find a better source than fruits and veggies. Both contain nutrients in their purest, most natural form — the same of which cannot be said of artificial sources. This translates to a higher level of utilization by the body, and practically no risk of developing side effects.
The best part is that fruits and greens can supply your body with almost all the vitamins it needs. This includes vitamins A, C, D, E, K, as well as the B vitamins. Let’s take a look at these nutrients in detail.
– Vitamin A: Your body needs vitamin A to synthesize rhodopsin, a protein that helps your eyes process light. It also facilitates cellular reproduction, growth and differentiation; processes that are crucial in maintaining normal function in various organs. Vitamin A can be derived from foods like lettuce, grapefruit, carrot, tomato, watermelon and spinach.
– Vitamin C: Unlike most vitamins, this can only be obtained from plants (citrus fruits are your best bet, although it’s also found in tomatoes, broccoli and green peppers). Vitamin C is vital for the growth and repair of body tissues (collagen, cartilage, bone, etc).
– Vitamin D: Besides facilitating calcium uptake for the healthy development of bones, vitamin D is also involved in immune function, as well as battling inflammation. And while your body can synthesize vitamin D on its own with a regular dose of sunlight, mushrooms can supply it readily without exposing you to potentially-harmful ultraviolet radiation.
– Vitamin E: Besides helping maintain healthy vision, vitamin E is also involved in sustaining reproductive processes and normal function in various organs (skin, brain, blood). Achieve your daily recommended intake of vitamin E by including avocado, spinach, pumpkin, and mushroom in your diet.
– Vitamin K: Vital for making your blood clot after sustaining injury, vitamin K is primarily found on animal foods. However, a few plants are known to contain it in a different form; consume vegetables like kale, spinach, parsley and Collard Greens to complement what you derive from other sources.
The B-family Vitamins
The B complex is comprised of; thiamine (B1 Vitamin), riboflavin (B2 Vitamin), niacin (B3 Vitamin), pantothenic acid (B5 Vitamin), pyridoxine (B6 Vitamin), biotin (B7 Vitamin), folate (B9 Vitamin), and cobalamin (B12 Vitamin). Each of these nutrients has its own identifying characteristics and defined role within the body. So why then are they bunched together under one umbrella? It’s because they’re collectively involved in the production of energy.
Specifically, every single vitamin in the category must be present for the Krebs Cycle to take place. The Krebs Cycle refers to a series of chemical processes that facilitate the breakdown of ‘raw’ nutrients like glucose to form ATP. You may think of ATP as a miniature battery pack for every cell in your body.
And that’s about as far as we need to go into details; it’s already clear that a deficiency in any one B-vitamin is enough to your body deprived of energy. Fortunately, the nutrients are found in abundance in a few readily-available fruits/veggies:
– Vitamin B1: Asparagus and lentils.
– Vitamin B2: Mushrooms, avocado & spinach. Avocado and mushrooms also provide vitamins B3 and B5.
– Vitamin B6: Potatoes and bananas. The latter also offers vitamin B7.
– Vitamin B9: Brussel sprouts, asparagus, and spinach will take care of your requirements.
You will note that no fruit or vegetable species are known to contain vitamin V12; animal sources like milk and fish are your only option here. But for the rest of the pack, pick flora over fauna whenever possible. Some B-vitamins get destroyed easily by heat, but fruits and veggies allow you to preserve the nutrients by consuming them raw.
…As Well as Minerals
Vitamins aside, fruits and veggies provide a bunch of minerals that are crucial in sustaining health and wellbeing:
– Iron from dates, grapes, mango and leafy greens helps in the formation of hemoglobin, the substance that conveys oxygen to your cells.
– Potassium regulates blood pressure, in addition to facilitating other processes. Get it from figs, grapes, Jackfruit and lemon.
– Calcium is vital for healthy bones and teeth. It’s found in leafy greens and fruits like pawpaw.
Fruits and greens also provide other minerals like magnesium, selenium and zinc.
Low on Calories and Fat
Fruits and vegetables have a much lower calorie content compared to other foods. And they’re practically devoid of fat — with a few exceptions like avocado and coconut. Even for these, the fat content is more preferable compared to what you get from animal sources.
Now, you’re probably wondering how fruit and greens maintain such a low calorie count, even with all the bulk. It’s all down to the fiber content. Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that forms part of the edible matter, but which cannot be broken down by the human digestive system. Both vegetables and fruits contain a lot more fiber than is found on other plant-derived foods like cereals.
As such, greens and fruit are just about the only foods you can eat to your satisfaction without having to worry about the impact on your waistline. Moderation is always recommended, obviously. But you’ll find that substituting other foods with greens/fruit will allow you eat almost the same amount while cutting down your calorie intake.
Fiber is Your Best Friend
You’d think that fiber, being indigestible and all, is of minimal (if any) value to your body. But nothing could be further from the truth — fiber plays some very crucial roles. It slows down the rate at which food travels down your gut, thereby stabilizing digestion and the rate at which nutrients enter the bloodstream.
And it’s for this reason that individuals with insulin sensitivity problems are advised to adopt a fiber-rich diet. Fiber helps in preventing rapid spikes and dips in blood sugar levels, which is very crucial for diabetics. Individuals who’re looking to lose weight also stand to benefit from fiber’s ability to regulate digestion. It will keep you feeling full for longer, which means you will no longer experience those notorious mid-meal cravings.
Fiber’s also crucial in nourishing the friendly bacteria that resides in our guts. These micro-organisms break it down to release short-chain amino acids that have anti-inflammatory properties. Studies suggest that they may influence metabolic processes such as appetite regulation. Fiber further promotes gut health by keeping everything traveling down smoothly, which maintains regularity in bowel movements.
Although fiber can be found in just about all plant-based foods, you’ll be much better off with fruits and veggies (carrot, kale, apple, eggplant, raspberries and okra) if you are aiming to lose weight.
Phytochemicals Fight to Keep You Healthy
This is yet another huge incentive to ditch your regular snacks for salads — even if you’re not looking to shed some pounds or rein in an errant appetite. Veggies and fruits load you up with phytochemicals. Also known as phytonutrients, these are compounds that help plants thrive in the face of competitors, pathogens and predators. They also contribute to the wide color variety across plant-sourced foods. Each species has its own unique combination of phytochemicals, and therefore a distinct color fingerprint.
As pointed out, phytochemicals are ‘fighter chemicals’ in the literal sense of the word. They battle to keep you fit and healthy in various ways:
– Leafy, dark-colored greens are rich in zeaxanthin and lutein, both of which improve eye health.
– Flavonoids help keep free radicals in control. While free radicals are produced by white blood cells to fight off invading pathogens, they also cause damage to the body’s own healthy cells, leading to inflammation. Flavonoids are also known to protect DNA from oxidative stress, which thwarts the growth of cancerous cells. Your best sources of flavonoids include apples, berries, citrus fruits, coffee, onions, soybeans, and walnuts.
– Carotenoids are another class of compounds that can inhibit cancerous growth; these are mainly found in green, orange, red and yellow vegetables. Terpenes (found in citrus fruits and cherries) also provide the same benefit, in addition to fighting viruses.
– A good number of phytonutrients are known to improve circulatory function. Anthocyanins (found in berries, grapes and other dark-colored fruit) help lower blood pressure. Flavanols improve arterial structure, as do proanthocyanidins (both are found in apples, grapes and cocoa). Sulfides and thiols in garlic, olives, leeks and onions are known to eradicate harmful LDL cholesterol from the body, whereas Hesperidin (found in citrus fruit) is said to promote blood flow.
In a nutshell, phytochemicals are behind the age-old saying that a colorful diet is a healthy diet. Researchers estimate that there could be more than 5,000 different compounds, most of whose roles in human health are only beginning to become clear.
Antioxidants Provide Further Protection
We’ve highlighted how free radicals cause harm to the body and increase susceptibility to disease. Besides being produced by the immune system, free radicals also result from normal metabolic processes or external factors like pollution. These highly-reactive molecules can wreak havoc if left unchecked.
However, there’s no need to worry as long as you’re loading up on fruits and veggies. Both provide substances that protect cells and their structures against this threat. These are called antioxidants, because they help in relieving the oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
Antioxidants include alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, and ascorbic acid; these can be found in broccoli, blueberry, kale, and strawberry. Like with phytonutrients, scientists are yet to establish exactly how these substances combat free radicals. It is however believed that their protective capabilities stem from synergistic interactions with each other.
Make Things Easier For Yourself
That you now know how important fruits and vegetables are to your health is all well and good. Still, you might encounter a few hurdles when trying to incorporate them into your diet — given the prevalence of convenient fast food and all. So perhaps you might need a few pointers to help you along the way:
– Be prepared: Between shopping for produce and getting it ready for consumption, adding fruits and greens to your diet will require a bit of effort. So make a plan; allocate time for all the ‘chores’ so you don’t feel overwhelmed during your mealtimes. Having your fruit/veggies ready to go will help you resist the temptation to pick easier options instead.
– Explore: Speaking of options, it would greatly help to venture outside your comfort zone when it comes to greens/fruit. Challenge yourself to eat foods you’ve never tried before every once in a while — it’s this adventurous spirit that will motivate you to keep going.
– Stick with the seasons: Do keep in mind that veggies and fruit tend to be cheaper when they’re in season, even as you branch out.
– There’s a convenient route, too: If shopping and prepping sound like too much work, you can always opt for pre-cut, pre-washed foods from your local grocery store or supermarket. Or better yet, some freshly-squeezed juice or pre-cooked veggies from a restaurant. You will not have as much control over quality, but hey — a little compromise won’t hurt as long as you’re careful.
With these simple steps, you should be able to increase your intake of fruits/greens and reap all the benefits they have to offer.