Your mother always told you to eat your fruits and vegetables, and it turns out she was right. Fruits and vegetables are the healthiest foods around. They're packed with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that help ward off disease. While both fruits and vegetables are healthy choices for your daily diet, each of these food groups offer different nutritional benefits.
If you eat an assortment of fruits and vegetables, you will be consuming an array of powerful phytochemicals. These naturally occurring substances give plants their color and protect them from disease, weather and pests. When you eat fruits and vegetables, the benefits of these natural nutrients pass on to you, making a plant-based diet one of the best ways to boost your immunity and avoid chronic diseases. Incorporate a rainbow of fruits and vegetables into your meals every day, including red, orange, yellow, purple, blue and green.
Nutrition expert Elson M. Haas, M.D., calls fruits "nature's perfect food." These foods are low in fat and high in water and fiber, which your body needs for digestive health. Fruits are also low in sodium and high in natural sugars, making them a good substitute for processed snacks containing empty calories. The calories in fruit are nutrient-dense, supplying vitamins and minerals along with energy. Citrus fruits, for example, are well known for their vitamin C content, but kiwis, papayas and mangoes also contain rich amounts of this vital antioxidant that helps protect against heart disease, cancer and age-related eye conditions. Melons are high in minerals such as calcium for bone health and potassium for muscle strength and metabolism of protein and fats. The anthocyanins, ellagic acids and other phytochemicals in berries make them especially powerful anti-cancer foods.
The word vegetable comes from the Latin "vegetare," meaning "to enliven or animate" -- an appropriate term for these nutrient-dense foods. Like fruits, they are naturally low in fat and sodium, and high in water and fiber. But they are lower in natural sugars than fruit -- on a weight-loss or weight-maintenance diet, you can eat a lot of vegetables without worrying about gaining pounds through excess calories. The rainbow of vegetables provides essential antioxidants such as vitamins A and C and minerals such as selenium, which fight free radicals that can cause cell damage. Green veggies are especially high in chlorophyll, which aids digestion and helps detoxify the liver. The cruciferous family, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, contain potent anti-cancer properties. According to a study published in the October 24, 2006 issue of "Neurology," participants 65 and older who consumed at least 2.8 vegetables per day slowed their cognitive decline by 40 percent, possibly due to the high vitamin E content in veggies. Fruit consumption, however, did not affect cognition.
Much of the fresh produce available in supermarkets was grown using pesticides. Children are especially susceptible to these chemicals, because their immune systems and organs are not fully developed. To limit your intake of toxins, buy organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Fruits and vegetables begin to lose their nutrients soon after they are harvested, so consume produce as soon after purchase as possible, and eat fruits and vegetables raw or lightly steamed to reap the most benefits. Substitute frozen produce when fresh is not available. If you are diabetic or insulin-resistant, remember that fruits and veggies are carbohydrates, so limit your intake of those with a high glycemic load, such as dried fruits and starchy vegetables including white potatoes and corn. In terms of sugar content, cherries, grapes and ripe bananas have considerably more than citrus, berries and apples.
- "The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods"; Michael Murray, ND; 2005
- "Staying Healthy with Nutrition"; Elson M. Haas, MD; 2006
- Environmental Working Group: Shopper's Guide to Pesticides
- Neurology: Vegetables, Not Fruit, Help Fight Memory Problems In Old Age
- European Food Information Council: Which Fruits Have The Most Sugar? Which Have The Least Sugar?
- Mendosa.com: Revised International Table of Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL) Values
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.