We all know that fruits and vegetables are necessary for a healthy diet, but according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, only one in ten adults in the United States adhere to federal fruit and vegetable recommendations.
The 2015- 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans specifies how much fruit and vegetables Americans should eat in an attempt to prevent diet-related chronic diseases. Altering your diet slightly can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancers and obesity. Fruits and vegetables can be used to detox the body and aid in weight loss.
Education is the key to improving your diet. Not all fruits and vegetables are created equal or have the same benefits. Some produce has anti-inflammatory properties or contains necessary vitamins and minerals such as vitamins, A, C, E, folic acid, and magnesium. Following the guidelines below can help you make more informed choices when grocery shopping.
Fruits and vegetables are differentiated by their botanical make-up. Fruits are seed-bearing, grown from the ovaries of a plant. , Vegetables come from any other part of the plant, such as the roots or leaves. From the main two groups of fruit and vegetable your produce can be broken down into subgroups that can help you while shopping:
|• Leafy green: Lettuce, spinach
|• Citrustake out space : Oranges, mandarins, limes, grapefruits
|• Cruciferous: Cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli
|• Stone fruit: Nectarines, peaches, plums
|• Marrow: Pumpkin, cucumber, zucchini
|• Tropical and exotic: Bananas, mangoes
|• Root: Potatoes, yams
|• Berries: Strawberries, raspberries, kiwifruit
|• Edible plant stems: Celery, asparagus
|• Melons: Watermelons, honeydew melons
|• Allium: Onion, garlic, shallots
|•Tomatoes and avocados
A third category is legumes or beans. Don’t discount this group. Examples of healthy legumes include: green peas, green beans, soybeans, chickpeas, and lentils. In order to get the full nutrient benefits from legumes it is best to cook them, unlike other fruits and vegetables which you can eat raw. As with any food, store and prepare produce properly to prevent food safety hazards.
Start your Fruit and Vegetable Diet
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should eat one-and-a-half to two cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables a day. If fruits and vegetables aren’t already a part of your diet, incorporating them into meals may seem daunting. What do you choose? In order to get the most out of your produce, variety is the name of the game. You want your plate to look like a rainbow, with each item providing its own role. Below is a produce color guide provided by the Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia:
- Red Produce: Produce such as tomatoes or watermelon contain the naturally occurring chemical lycopene, which protects against prostate cancer and heart disease.
- Green Produce: Vegetables such as spinach and kale contain the chemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, which ward against age-related eye disease.
- Blue and Purple Foods: Blueberries and eggplants provide anthocyanin, another cancer-fighting property.
- White Foods: Cauliflower contains sulforaphane, which protects against some cancers.
Natural Benefits of Produce
Produce has natural wellness properties for the body and can aid in strengthening your overall health.
- Vegetables high in fiber (split peas, lentils, broccoli and Brussels sprouts) are essential to regulating bowel movements, in addition to making you feel full with few calories.
- White potatoes, soybeans, lima beans and spinach are vegetables high in potassium, which helps to maintain healthy blood pressure.
- Guavas, oranges, strawberries and papaya are all fruits high in vitamin C, which aids in the healing of cuts, and wounds and the repair of body tissue.
- Fruits and vegetables high in iron are important in preventing anemia (fatigue caused by iron deficiency).They include dried fruit; dark, leafy greens; peas; asparagus; leeks and green beans.
Another factor to consider when beginning your produce journey is where to buy your food. Taking the extra step to buy certified organic produce can be worthwhile when considering your overall health. Non-organic products can contain a host of chemicals, including
herbicides and insecticides. Instead of going to your main grocery store for produce, research local farmers markets. If you choose the organic route, opt for produce that is in season and you will find fresher choices.
Allergies to Fruits and Vegetables
It may seem counterintuitive, but not all fruits and vegetables have a positive effect on all of our bodies. Oral allergy syndrome is an allergic reaction caused by cross-reacting allergies caused by pollen, raw fruits, vegetables and some tree nuts. The immune system creates an allergic response when encountering these pollens or similar proteins. Symptoms of an oral allergy reaction include an itchy mouth, scratchy throat, swelling of the lips, mouth or tongue. The most common pollens associated with oral allergies include:
- Birch Pollen: Apples, almonds, carrots, celery, cherries, hazelnuts, kiwifruit, pears and peaches.
- Grass Pollen: Melons, oranges and tomatoes.
- Ragweed Pollen: Bananas, cucumbers, sunflower seeds and zucchinis.
If you experience symptoms of oral allergy syndrome, consult an allergist.
Fruit and Vegetable Food Safety
While fruits and vegetables are essential for your health, they can be extremely hazardous if you don’t follow proper consumption and preparation protocol. According to the CDC, almost half of food–borne illnesses are caused by germs on fresh produce. Raw fruits and vegetables can carry dangerous germs such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria. Follow these food safety precautions recommended by the CDC:
- Look for produce that is free of bruises or appears
- Cut off bruised or damaged areas before preparation or consumption.
- If you buy precut fruits or vegetables keep them refrigerated or on ice.
- Keep produce separate from raw meat, poultry and seafood in your shopping cart and grocery bags.
- Always wash your hands, kitchen utensils, surfaces, and chopping boards before and after preparing produce.
- Wash your produce before eating, cutting and cooking.
- Dry produce with a paper towel.