According to surveys done by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, only about 14 percent of Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables every day. This week, you're going to focus on increasing your intake.
Your mom probably told you to eat your vegetables. She was right because both fruits and vegetables are filled with all the vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy body, plus they contain thousands of phytochemicals like polyphenols that offer a variety of even more health benefits. Some of the polyphenols are found in the pigment of the fruits and vegetables, called flavonoids.
Each pigment contains different flavonoids. So eating fruits and vegetables with a variety of colors will help you get various health benefits. Other types of polyphenols like tannins, stilbenes, and lignans are found in the seeds or the flesh of fruits and vegetables as well as in the skins. Plus most fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, making them nutrient dense and low in calories.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in water-soluble vitamins, including the B-complex vitamins (except B-12) and vitamin C. The B vitamins are necessary for a number of biochemical reactions in your body. Vitamin C helps keep your immune system working and keeps your skin and connective tissue strong.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables will also supply your body with the fat-soluble vitamin A (from beta carotene), vitamin E and vitamin K. Vitamins A and E (along with vitamin C) are antioxidants that protect the cells in your body from free radical damage. Vitamin A is also important for normal vision and regular cell reproduction. Vitamin K is necessary for normal blood clotting and strong bones.
Fruits and vegetables also contain many of the minerals you need. Calcium does a lot of things, but it's especially important for strong bones and teeth. Iron is needed to carry oxygen throughout your body. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of magnesium and potassium, which help keep your muscles working (including that very important muscle -- your heart) and help regulate your blood pressure.
The polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables trigger antioxidant activity that protects the cells in your body and some of them, such as quercetin (found in red apples and watermelon) and resveratrol (in grapes) may be anti-inflammatory in nature. Some of the phytonutrients appear to protect you against cancer, such as falcarinol, which is found in carrots, and indole-3 carbonyl, which is in broccoli.
Fruits and vegetables supply dietary fiber, which is often deficient in a typical western diet. High-fiber foods keep your digestive system working normally and help regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Fiber also helps keep you feeling full, which is good for losing or maintaining your weight.
Science suggests that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with having a healthier heart, a lower risk of cancer, better brain function, and a longer life. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), you need at least two cups of fruit every day and about two and one-half cups of vegetables every day. Or if it's easier to track, about five to nine servings per day.
So how big is a serving? Generally, one serving of a fruit or vegetable is equal to about one-half cup (sliced or chopped). But greens like spinach and lettuce have a serving size equal to one full cup. A single piece of fruit, such as an apple or an orange also counts as one serving. When you read the labels on packaged fruits and vegetables, you might see that a serving is three-fourths of a cup instead of a half cup. One serving of juice is four ounces.
Here are some examples of one serving:
- One banana
- Six strawberries
- One apple
- One peach
- One-half cup of orange or other fruit juice
- Fifteen grapes
- One half cup rutabaga.
- Five broccoli florets
- One roma tomato
- Half of a baked sweet potato
- One ear of corn
- Four slices of an onion
Remember that five servings is minimal. And if you're a larger person, you'll need more than that.