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Fruit and Vegetable Benefits

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Every summer for most of my adult years, I have planted a garden - sometimes small, sometimes large, sometimes bountiful, sometimes not so much so. No matter the outcome of the garden, my family always enjoyed the process and the harvest. Goodness knows nothing tastes better than beans, tomatoes, or cucumbers straight out of the garden. Fortunately for upstate NY folks, fresh veggies are readily available this time of year either from the garden out back, a local farm market, or roadside stand. In addition, many supermarkets offer produce from local growers this time of year. It is the perfect opportunity to indulge in as many veggies as you want, introduce children to new varieties, and experiment with new recipes. Everyone from the CDC to the American Heart Association to the American Medical Association recommends that Americans bump up their fruit and vegetable intake. So what’s the big deal? Why the push? Is this just another fad?

The answer is “No, this is not a fad.” This is actually going back to the diet of our ancestors long before the age of cheese puffs, chocolate cereals, and pastries wrapped in plastic at the gas station. It turns out our moms, grandmothers, and great grandmothers were right – eat your fruits and veggies! Human bodies function best on foods as close to their original form as possible; not ones invented in a chemistry lab at a large food company. This basically means carrots, apples, and broccoli, raw, steamed, or sautéed will always trump potato chips, cookies, and TV dinners. Numerous research studies show that vegetables and fruits, unlike any other food group, provide the most benefits for the heart, blood pressure, digestive tract, and diabetes.

Heart Benefits

  • Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and none have cholesterol.

  • Harvard Public Health reports that there is “compelling evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.”

  • Harvard studies and numerous others in the U.S. and Europe all found similar results: Individuals who ate more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day had roughly a 20% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke compared with individuals who ate less than 3 servings.

Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and none have cholesterol.

Harvard Public Health reports that there is “compelling evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.”

Harvard studies and numerous others in the U.S. and Europe all found similar results: Individuals who ate more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day had roughly a 20% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke compared with individuals who ate less than 3 servings.

Blood Pressure

  • A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products that limits total fat can reduce blood pressure. One major study found that people who followed this diet reduced their systolic (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. This is as much as many medications can achieve.

  • A 2005 trial known as the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health showed that a fruit and vegetable rich diet lowered blood pressure even more when some of the carbohydrates were replaced with healthy saturated fat or protein. (i.e. – take out some of the pasta and add a piece of fish, chicken, or other lean protein.)

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products that limits total fat can reduce blood pressure. One major study found that people who followed this diet reduced their systolic (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. This is as much as many medications can achieve.

A 2005 trial known as the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health showed that a fruit and vegetable rich diet lowered blood pressure even more when some of the carbohydrates were replaced with healthy saturated fat or protein. (i.e. – take out some of the pasta and add a piece of fish, chicken, or other lean protein.)

Digestive Tract

  • According to a 1998 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, vegetables contain indigestible fiber, which absorbs water and expands as it passes through the digestive system. Authors of the study indicate that this can calm irritable bowel syndrome and by triggering regular bowel movements can relieve or prevent constipation. In addition, the bulking and softening action of insoluble fiber also decreases the pressure inside the intestinal tract and may help prevent diverticulosis.

According to a 1998 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, vegetables contain indigestible fiber, which absorbs water and expands as it passes through the digestive system. Authors of the study indicate that this can calm irritable bowel syndrome and by triggering regular bowel movements can relieve or prevent constipation. In addition, the bulking and softening action of insoluble fiber also decreases the pressure inside the intestinal tract and may help prevent diverticulosis.

Diabetes

  • A review of three major studies that included over 187,000 men and women who were free of major chronic diseases found that greater consumption of whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes, and apples, is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • A 2008 report in Diabetes Care looked at over 70,000 female nurses aged 38-63 years who were free of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Research showed that consumption of leafy green vegetables and fruits was associated with lower risk of diabetes.

A review of three major studies that included over 187,000 men and women who were free of major chronic diseases found that greater consumption of whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes, and apples, is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

A 2008 report in Diabetes Care looked at over 70,000 female nurses aged 38-63 years who were free of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Research showed that consumption of leafy green vegetables and fruits was associated with lower risk of diabetes.

Overall Health

  • Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, folate (folic acid), vitamin A and vitamin C.

  • Potassium helps with blood pressure. Vegetable sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, white beans, tomato products, beet greens, soybeans, lima beans, spinach, lentils, and kidney beans.

  • Vitamin A keeps eye and skin healthy and helps to fight against infections. High vitamin A foods include sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, lettuce, dried apricots, cantaloupe, bell peppers, and tropical fruits.

  • Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. It is also aids in iron absorption. Papaya, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, cantaloupe, and raspberries are also excellent vitamin C sources. Cranberries, blueberries, and watermelon are examples of very good sources, while apples, pears, and bananas are in the good category.

  • Folate helps the body form red blood cells. Proper quantities of folate reduce the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly in fetal development. Good sources of folate include: lentils, dried beans, peas, avocado, broccoli, spinach, collard or turnip greens, okra, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and citrus fruit and juice.

Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, folate (folic acid), vitamin A and vitamin C.

Potassium helps with blood pressure. Vegetable sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, white beans, tomato products, beet greens, soybeans, lima beans, spinach, lentils, and kidney beans.

Vitamin A keeps eye and skin healthy and helps to fight against infections. High vitamin A foods include sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, lettuce, dried apricots, cantaloupe, bell peppers, and tropical fruits.

Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. It is also aids in iron absorption. Papaya, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, cantaloupe, and raspberries are also excellent vitamin C sources. Cranberries, blueberries, and watermelon are examples of very good sources, while apples, pears, and bananas are in the good category.

Folate helps the body form red blood cells. Proper quantities of folate reduce the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly in fetal development. Good sources of folate include: lentils, dried beans, peas, avocado, broccoli, spinach, collard or turnip greens, okra, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and citrus fruit and juice.

To learn more about the benefits of fruits and vegetables, try these websites:

United States Department of Agriculture at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables-nutrients-health

Produce for Better Health Foundation at http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/why-fruits-veggies/

Livingston County Farm Market List at https://business.livingstoncountychamber.com/members/ql/tourism-26?c=192&q=&st=1

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.

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