At this time of year, we’re fortunate to have access to a range of delicious, nutritious fruits and vegetables. Whether we frequent family farms, farmers’ markets, or local supermarkets, we’re greeted by a riot of colors and shapes that provide life-giving nutrients that help protect us from myriad chronic diseases.
Yet, in the season of fried clams, ice cream cones, and lemonade, how can a lowly broccoli spear or a wedge of watermelon compete for our attention?
Dust Off Your Salad Bowls, Sharpen Your Paring Knives
Would you be more inclined to eat more colorful salads, handfuls of blueberries, or slices of avocado if you knew they could ultimately cut in half your risk of dying prematurely, keep you from vision loss, and ward off disease? If so, read on, because eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables can do just that.
Here are a few of the dozens of compelling reasons to up your daily consumption to five or more servings of vegetables and fruits, which can:
- Lower your risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease
- Lower your blood sugar and decrease the likelihood of your getting Type II diabetes
- Lessen the likelihood of being afflicted by memory loss and even Alzheimer’s disease
- Greatly reduce your chances of getting certain types of cancer
- Reduce your risk of becoming blinded by macular degeneration or glaucoma
- Lower your likelihood of becoming obese
- Reduce depression, anxiety, and fatigue
- Enhance energy, sleep, sense of well-being, and daily functioning
The Farm is Your Farmacy
According to US governmental dietary guidelines, along with the recommendations of healthcare professionals nationwide, we should all consume at least one and one half cups of fruits and two to three cups of vegetables daily. But with 90 percent of U.S. adults falling short of our daily requirements, we’re a long way from meeting our nutritional needs and reducing our chances of getting chronically ill.
So what is it about fruits and vegetables that makes them such nutritional—even medicinal—powerhouses?
Fruits and vegetables supply vital vitamins and minerals to our diets, including folate, magnesium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K. But perhaps even more importantly, they are sources of phytochemicals that function as antioxidants, anti-cancer agents, and anti-inflammatory agents, and that are very difficult to get anywhere else.
The Powers of the Leafy Green and the Mighty Berry
Although eating a rainbow of colored vegetables and fruits is the best way to obtain the range of nutrients you need, not all fruits and veggies are created equal.
The two categories that give you the most concentrated, potent, and vital nutrients are leafy greens and berries.
In dark leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, broccoli, and Swiss chard, there’s a substance called nitrates that opens up the flow of blood in your blood vessels, and is associated with a lowering of blood pressure and a significant decrease in the risk of developing a type of glaucoma. These leafy greens also have higher concentrations than other vegetables in nutrients such as iron, calcium, and disease-fighting substances called flavonoids. Furthermore, they’re rich in lutein and its cousin, zeaxanthin, substances that have been shown to lower the risk of cataracts and advanced macular degeneration, and are also quite high in Vitamin E, which may be pivotal in protecting the body against inflammation.
And while all fruits can help fight inflammation in the body because they’re high in fiber and antioxidants, berries have especially strong anti-inflammatory benefits—possibly owing to the powers of anthocyanins, flavonoids that give berries their rich color.
Among all the berries, however, the blueberry stands out as the real star of the show. Eating even less than a cup of blueberries a day can delay brain aging by several years, lower your blood pressure, help prevent cancer, stop heart attacks, protect your lungs, and improve insulin sensitivity. Blueberries are also an excellent source of vitamins K and C, the mineral manganese and fiber.
For the best chances of living a long and healthy life, fill at least half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, choose a rainbow of colors, and buy locally whenever possible.
This content was previously published in the June, 2018 issue of The New Boston Beacon (Volume 1, Issue 5, p.23), in my health and wellness column.