According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate, half of our plate should consist of fruits and veggies. For most adults that’s 2-servings of fruits and 3-servings of veggies each day. Less than 2 in 10 Americans consume get enough fruits and veggies, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Consuming a “colorful plate” has long been linked to improved health and longevity, and for good reason. Fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and dietary bioactive compounds that have been shown to protect against chronic diseases such as heart disease and certain types of cancer. They are also low in calories and have a satiating effect in part due to their dietary fiber content.
Choosing a colorful array of fruits and vegetables is best, as different health benefits have been found among fruits and vegetables that differ in color. For example, berries such as blueberries contain anthocyanins that not only provide red-orange to blue-violet hues but have also been shown to decrease LDL-cholesterol (i.e., your bad cholesterol) among individuals with higher levels. Lutein, a yellow-orange carotenoid found in dark green leafy veggies such as spinach, accumulates in the macular region of the eye and has a protective effect on development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Low-Carb Diets, Weight Gain and Satiety
With so much of a focus on low-carbohydrate diets, I’m frequently asked “will I gain weight if I eat too many fruits and veggies?” The answer is no. High intakes of fruits and vegetables delay your stomach from emptying into the small intestine because dietary fibers form a gel that partially diminishes the activity of digestive enzymes. This prolongs the contact of nutrients with receptors in the small intestine, causing the body to secrete satiety hormones and less insulin, thus improving blood sugar control and attracting fluids into the intestine. All of this makes you feel satisfied longer.
Fruits and Veggies for a Healthy Heart
The strongest scientific evidence for increasing fruit and vegetable intake is illustrated by their marked effects on cardiovascular diseases. A recent systematic review, combining data from 95 studies, found that increasing fruit and vegetable intakes up to 800 grams per day (that’s about 9-10 servings) had cumulative benefits on prevention of cardiovascular disease and stroke incidence. Higher intakes also have been shown to have protective effects on conditions such as certain types of cancer, osteoporosis, chronic kidney disease, eye health and age-related cognitive decline.
All Forms Matter
Its best to consume fruits and vegetables in their whole food form. Hint: many times, frozen fruits and vegetables have superior nutrition to regular grocery store produce. This is because they are picked ripe and immediately frozen vs. allowed to ripen during transportation (e.g., on a truck coming from California to the east coast). Don’t sweat about organic vs. non-organic. Organic foods do not have any nutritional superiority and pesticide exposure from conventional products is too minimal to cause any type of health concern. Pesticides are highly water-soluble and easily removed when fruits and veggies are washed after picking. They can be further reduced by rewashing produce at home… which you should be doing to avoid foodborne illness (i.e., people love to touch produce at the grocery store to find that perfect apple).
Remember no single fruit or vegetable provides all the nutrients you need to be healthy, so eat plenty every day. Variety is as important as quantity.