Getting to The Heart of a Healthful Diet: Fruits and Vegetables
Here's Why Fruits and Veggies Are Good for You:
Produce has certainly earned its healthful reputation. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber, while being low in calories and fat. All of these factors help make your heart healthier. Specifically:
- Soluble fiber helps lower blood cholesterol levels.
- Antioxidant nutrients— beta-carotene and vitamins A and C—are believed to help prevent atherosclerosis and lower the risk for coronary artery disease .
- Phytochemicals, which are plant chemicals found in fruits and vegetables, are believed to decrease the risk for many diseases, including heart disease.
- A diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps lower blood pressure .
Here's How to Eat Your Fruits and Veggies:
A total of nine fruits and vegetables each day may sound like a lot, but a serving is probably smaller than you think.
One Serving of Fruit Equals...
- 1 medium piece of fruit, such as an apple, banana, orange, pear, or peach
- ½ grapefruit
- ¼ avocado (Note: there's more fat here than in your average fruit; about 30 grams for a whole avocado, but the majority of this fat is the healthful, monounsaturated kind)
- ½ cup chopped, cooked, or canned fruit, including berries and grapes
- ¼ cup dried fruit
- ¾ cup 100% fruit juice
One Serving of Vegetable Equals...
- 1 cup raw, leafy vegetables, such as spinach, romaine lettuce, and broccoli
- ½ cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw
- ¾ cup 100% vegetable juice
Within your nine daily servings, try for a serving rich in vitamin A or beta-carotene (which is converted into vitamin A in the body) and another rich in vitamin C.
Produce Rich in Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene Include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Tomato juice
Produce Rich in Vitamin C Include:
- Bell pepper
- Oranges and orange juice
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Collard greens
To Reach Nine a Day, Eat Some at Each Meal
- Fresh or dried fruit mixed with cereal or oatmeal
- Bagel or English muffin topped with avocado and tomato or cucumber and cream cheese
- Glass of tomato juice with a spear of celery
For Lunch and Snacks:
- Bake a sweet potato (microwave on high for 5-8 minutes) and top with black beans
- Stir fresh fruit into yogurt
- Pop open a can of mandarin oranges
- Dip carrot, celery, red pepper, and zucchini sticks into hummus, yogurt, or low-fat dip
- Roast vegetables—onion, squash, peppers, and eggplant—and spread on a pizza crust with tomato sauce and cheese
- Top baked potatoes with steamed broccoli, beans, and salsa
- Add dried fruit to rice and stuffing
- Grate carrots and zucchini into pasta sauce
- Top frozen yogurt with sautéed apples, fresh peaches, or canned pineapple
- Choose a fruity dessert, such as a cobbler, over a heavier treat, such as cheesecake
While it may be tempting to just pop an antioxidant supplement instead of eating more produce, this is not the best way to go. The majority of the research has shown positive health effects from foods rich in antioxidants, and not from isolated antioxidants, which in some studies have even proven harmful. Experts think it may be the package of nutrients in fruits and vegetables that delivers the biggest health benefits. Remember also to eat your colors: reds, oranges, greens, and yellows.
Last reviewed April 2006 by Lawrence Frisch, MD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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