Wed, 24 Sep 2003

Why fruit and veggies are good for your health

Melissa Southern, Dietitian, Jakarta,

How many times have you heard your mother tell you to eat your vegetables because they'll make you strong?

Or, if you are a regular reader of my nutrition articles, how many times have I impressed upon you the importance of eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables?

Intuitively, everyone knows that eating fruits and vegetables is "good for you", but if you stop and think about it, do you really know why? And, how many fruits and vegetables should you eat every day to get the most out of your diet?

For several years now, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, along with the National Institutes for Health and the National Cancer Institute, have promoted a simple way to remember to eat your fruits and vegetables and in what amounts.

The simple and catchy slogan "Five a Day for Better Health" was printed in a variety of advertisements, as well as on produce in supermarkets and on packaged goods containing fruits and vegetables.

The basic message was that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day would lead to a general state of improved health.

This message went over well, so well, in fact, that this summer a new slogan was presented emphasizing even further the importance of fruit and vegetable consumption: "Five to Nine for Better Health".

This message indicates that eating five servings a day is good but getting up to nine servings a day is even better. And, by the way, a serving is usually smaller than you might imagine. One cup of raw vegetables or half a cup of cooked vegetables is considered one serving or portion, so a large salad could easily constitute up to three or four servings.

The recommendation also places particular emphasis on vegetables, suggesting we eat two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables.

So what is all the fuss about? To put it simply, every day more and more research indicates that fruit and vegetable consumption is linked to better health in the short and long terms.

The disease-fighting substances called phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables have been found to significantly lower the risks of a wide variety of diseases, particularly cancer of the colon, breast and stomach.

Other studies show that people who consume fruits and vegetables regularly, along with eating a diet low in saturated fats, have a significantly lower risk for heart disease and stroke.

Research also indicates that people who consume five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day can actually lower their blood pressure.

And, as I have often pointed out in my other articles, all of the vitamins and minerals found in fresh foods cannot adequately be replaced by supplements.

Scientists have been increasingly intrigued by the fact that only the right mix of the hundreds of different chemical compounds found in fruits and vegetables can work effectively. A pill simply cannot replace this natural mixture.

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables also has the added benefit of keeping your intestinal tract running smoothly, and since fresh fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber, they are a great way to satisfy your hunger while keeping the calories down.

So, now that you really know why they are good for you, make sure you get plenty of fruits and vegetables every day. And don't forget to eat your fruits and vegetables fresh, raw, baked or steamed, and try to avoid heavy oils, butter or creamy sauces that might hinder your efforts.