“Vegetables and fruits are essential ingredients in almost every cuisine. If you let them play starring roles in your diet, they will reward you with many benefits besides great taste, terrific textures, and welcome variety. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will lower your blood pressure, decrease your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, help protect you against a variety of cancers, guard against constipation and other gastrointestinal problems, and limit your chances of developing age-related problems like cataracts and macular degeneration, the most common causes of vision loss among people over age sixty-five. I’ve plucked potatoes out of the vegetable category and put them in the “Use Sparingly” category because of the dramatic effects on levels of blood sugar and insulin.”
Dr. Walter WillettProfessor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
This quote highlights important advice that I think we’ve forgotten in today’s society. A reminder that the old dinnertime rule to “finish all your veggies” was not just a senseless act of parental authoritarianism. Yet it is easy to forget or downplay this important health message, particularly in the face of French fries, hamburgers, sugary desserts, and other mouthwatering foods, often processed to please our pallets. But let the message ring, because eating plentiful fruits and vegetables truly is a critical part of health and longevity. While pharmaceutical companies toil for the next magical pill and holistic doctors hail at the latest herbal remedy, the most repeatedly proven “pill” to better your health and extend your life remains good old fashion fruits and vegetables. These basic and abundant foods are packed with vitamins, antioxidant, fiber, and a number of other nutrients that protect against several forms of heart disease, stroke, and other chronic disease.
Not long ago, a meta-study which analyzed and summarized a number of previous dietary studies found that people in the top tier of fruit and vegetable consumption (about 5 servings/day) were 15% less likely to have a heart attack than those in the bottom tier. This is after controlling for a number of other key variables such as gender, age, smoking status, etc. Additionally, among the more than 100,000 people enrolled in the Nurse’s Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, eating a similar amount per day was associated with a 30% lower risk of stroke. Eating just a single extra serving per day of fruits or vegetables decreased the chances of stroke by 6%. These are profound health benefits! Dr. Willett actually suggests eating about 9 servings/day. Admittedly, this is not easy, and I too fall short of this. But the general message is clear. Eat your fruits and veggies everyone!
Keep in mind that while any given fruit/veggie has perhaps hundreds of useful vitamins and nutrients, no single fruit or vegetable contains everything your body needs for good health. This makes it important to eat from all the main fruit/veggie categories throughout the week. In my next blog, I will provide a list of these major categories, helping to guide your healthy eating! Also, the blending of fruits/veggies into shakes and smoothies has recently become a popular health trend. While delicious, there is an important disadvantage to delivering foods to the body in this way. This too will be discussed in my next blog. Stay tuned! And until then, happy holidays!
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Shahir Masri, M.S.