Packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients—disease-fighting compounds that have powerful antioxidant activity—there are many benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.
Plant foods, including vegetables and fruits, are also the best source of fiber. Insoluble fiber, found in whole grains and the outside of seeds, fruits and legumes, is essential for bowel regularity and can even prevent hemorrhoids. Soluble fiber, found inside fruits, vegetables, seeds and grains, lowers blood cholesterol levels and slows the entry of glucose into the bloodstream.
Another benefit of eating fruits and vegetables daily is stroke prevention. One meta-analysis, which reviewed data from eight studies involving over 250,000 people, found that those who ate more than five servings of vegetables and fruits daily decreased their risk of stroke by 26 percent.
Other research found that eating at least 2.8 servings of vegetables daily slows cognitive decline by 40 percent. And, according to a large British survey, a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, along with regular exercise and avoiding smoking gives 45- to 79-year-olds the life expectancy of someone 11 years younger.
How Many Servings for Optimal Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables?
I recommend eating five to eight servings of vegetables and one or two servings of fruit per day.
Eating more produce isn’t that hard. A piece of fruit with breakfast, a large and colorful salad for lunch, a couple of vegetables with dinner, and snacks of peanut butter and celery or raw vegetables and cottage cheese—that’s six servings and some change right there.
Variety Is Important
To ensure you get a full range of benefits of fruits and vegetables, you should also eat a variety of vegetables and fruits. For example, deep green, leafy vegetables have different phytonutrients from orange and yellow vegetables. To illustrate the importance of incorporating a variety of produce into your diet, here are a few examples of how specific fruits and vegetables help promote optimal health.
With one of the highest antioxidant capacities of all foods, berries have multiple health benefits. Research shows that eating a moderate amount of berries on a weekly basis can raise levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol and also lower systolic blood pressure.
You probably know that regular consumption of cranberry juice (preferably unsweetened) helps prevent urinary tract infections in susceptible women. But you may not know that the compounds found in these (and other) berries protect against other types of infections as well.
If you’re concerned about your memory, eat blueberries. In a placebo-controlled study, older people who drank two-and-a-half cups of blueberry juice every day for three months had marked improvements on tests of learning and memory. They also had lower rates of depression and better glucose control. Eating blueberries (about a cup a day) has also been shown to enhance energy.
Broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane glucosinolates (SGS) and other phytonutrients that shield cells from DNA damage, boost immune function and neutralize carcinogens. This explains why regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables protects against cancer of the colon, breast, bladder, lung and prostate.
Spinach, collard greens, kale and other leafy greens deliver more nutrients for fewer calories than any other food out there.
They are rich in vitamin K, calcium and magnesium, all of which play crucial roles in bone health. Leafy greens also contain lutein and zeaxanthin—powerful phytonutrients that have been shown to protect against eye problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
More Dr. Whitaker Advice on Diet and Optimal Health