As a healthy rule of thumb, the USDA recommends making half of your plate full of fruits and veggies. But why is that? Because fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients that keep our bodies running by supplying us with energy, building strong muscles, and by keeping our organs functioning normally. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce our risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke, and may protect us against certain types of cancers as well.
For example, potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, like bananas and green leafy vegetables, may help lower blood pressure as well as potentially help reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and decrease bone loss. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are full of fiber, a healthy non-nutrient but essential dietary component that keeps our digestive tract healthy, helps us feel fuller for longer periods of time, prevents constipation and may help lower cholesterol levels. Fiber-rich foods may also reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Another important group of compounds found in various fruits and vegetables are phytochemicals. Their role in protecting against disease has been linked to antioxidant properties that have been found to protect the body’s cells from damage. Anthocyanins, a particular group of phytochemicals, are plentiful in a variety of fruits and vegetables, particularly in berries (e.g. currants, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries). While researchers continue to study how and why anthocyanins may help prevent disease, the research to date shows intriguing results indicating an association between consumption of anthocyanins-rich foods and cardiovascular disease protection as well as anticarinogenic activities.
So if you’re asking yourself how many fruits and vegetables should I actually eat per day, here are a few specifics:
• Eat a rainbow of colors due to the different disease-fighting benefits they provide.
• Get 5 servings of colorful veggies per day. A serving equals 1/2 cup of most raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, or 6 ounces of pure vegetable juice.
• Choose 3 servings of fresh, frozen, or dried fruits per day. A serving is 1 small piece of fruit, 1 cup of berries or melon, 1/2 cup of other fruit (fresh, frozen, or canned without added sugar), or 1/4 cup of dried fruit.
Eating fruits and vegetables provides you with natural, unprocessed healthy food choices that contain no added sugar or salt and have many health benefits. Filling your plate with fruits and vegetables will not only add pretty colors and delicious flavors to your meal, cup-for-cup they provide a lower calorie option compared to a high calorie, processed food and may help you lower your overall caloric intake if you are trying to lose weight.
Webb, D., Anthocyanins. Today’s Dietitian, Vol. 16, No. 3, March 2014, 21-23.
USDA, Choosemyplate.gov: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/
About the Author:
Sue Horowitz Saso, M.P. H., has been working with BaySport since 2010 and Kaiser Permanente as a health educator and nutritionist since 2009, serving clients throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. She completed her Master’s degree in Health Education and works as a one-on-one health coach, as well as teaches healthy lifestyle and wellness classes throughout Silicon Valley.