Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition Facts

"Eat your vegetables." As it turns out, that bit of advice from your parents and grandparents was a pretty good one. Study after study has shown that the more whole fruits and vegetables you eat, the lower your risk for many chronic diseases, including cancer, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease—including heart disease and stroke.

Types of Fruits and Vegetables: Eating the Rainbow

A walk down the grocery store produce aisle makes it clear that there are plenty of fruits and vegetables to choose from.

"Eating the rainbow" is a good way to ensure that you're obtaining all the nutrients they have to offer. That simply means eating a variety of colors, since each color is associated with a specific type of flavonoid. Dark blue and purple foods, for example, are rich in anthocyanins, which are strong antioxidants.

Understanding Starchy vs. Non-Starchy Vegetables

Sometimes vegetables are categorized as starchy or non-starchy. For instance, starchy vegetables include corn, potatoes, peas, and squash; while lettuce, greens, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, tomatoes, and asparagus are examples of non-starchy vegetables.

Overall, vegetables of all kinds are extraordinarily low in calories, and you will find that the non-starchy vegetables tend to be even lower in calories, ounce for ounce, than the starchy vegetables. Although there is a calorie difference, just keep in mind that the take-home point here is always going to be that eating more of any type of vegetable is a good strategy for your overall health.

Variety is key to obtaining the vast array of nutrients the different vegetables have to offer.

For instance, most vegetables are naturally high in dietary fiber as well as in multiple essential vitamins, like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and the B Vitamins. And many vegetables, like carrots and beets, are healthy sources of naturally-occurring sugar.

Thus, you can choose fruits and veggies to satisfy that sweet tooth, and know that you are getting loads of nutrition in the process (unlike the case with refined and processed products containing added sugars).

Are Fresh, Frozen, or Canned Vegetables Best?

While fresh vegetables are wonderful when in season, don't be afraid to use frozen vegetables, which are just as nutritious, as they are frozen at the point of peak freshness.

Canned vegetables can make for an easy way to incorporate vegetables into a busy mealtime, but beware of the excessive sodium that is often added to canned foods. Look for low-sodium versions or, even better, those with no salt added at all. You can also rinse the vegetables to reduce the sodium by more than half!

Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables

Whole fruits and vegetables (with emphasis on “whole”—we are not talking about apple pie here—contain loads of fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients that your body needs. Studies have shown that, due to many of these nutritious properties, eating whole fruits and vegetables can even reduce inflammation within your body.

Fruit and vegetable intake has also been shown to improve the function of blood vessels (known as endothelial function).

Fruit and vegetable intake is not just a trivial matter; in fact, it is essential for life. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 1.7 million, or 2.8 percent, of deaths worldwide can be attributed to consuming too few fruits and vegetables!

WHO further estimates that insufficient intake of fruits and vegetables causes approximately 14 percent of deaths due to gastrointestinal cancer, 11 percent of ischemic heart disease deaths, and 9 of stroke deaths.

Additionally, research has shown that eating three to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day will decrease your risk of stroke, and eating more than five servings per day will decrease that risk even more. In an incremental fashion, the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the lower your risk. A very good return on your investment.

How Can Eating Fruits and Vegetables Prevent Obesity?

Fruits and vegetables constitute low-calorie foods. A single half-cup serving of filling, fiber-rich mixed vegetables, for example, is only 59 calories. Despite the low calories count, the vegetables pack in a healthy punch.

A report by WHO has stated that there is convincing evidence that eating fruits and vegetables decreases the risk for obesity. Compared to high-calorie foods such as processed foods that are high in sugar and fat, fruits and vegetables are less likely to contribute to obesity or overweight. And, because they contain higher amounts of dietary fiber and other nutrients, they are associated with a lower risk for diabetes and insulin resistance. For the same reasons, they also make people feel full with fewer calories, thus helping to prevent weight gain.

In one of its guides to preventing obesity as well as other chronic diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maps out strategies for increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The CDC notes that, as research has borne out, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and replacing higher-calorie foods with fruits and vegetables can be an important part of a weight-management strategy.

How Many Fruits and Vegetables Should You Eat?

The simple answer is: as many as possible.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its MyPlate food guidance system, recommends that individuals fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables. Additionally, many U.S. national guidelines recommend eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. However, a large study conducted by researchers in the United Kingdom recently led investigators to recommend at least seven servings every day.

The CDC notes that, to maintain healthfulness and nutrition, a serving of fruit or vegetable should be unsweetened (no added sugars), low in sodium, and 100 percent juice if a fruit juice. Consumers should also be aware that most fruit juices, even if they are 100 percent juice with no other additives, still are not as high in fiber (if they contain fiber at all) as a comparable whole fruit would be. Once again, there really is truth to your elders’ advice--eat the whole apple, including the peel, because that’s where the fiber is! Drinking apple juice alone, sans fiber, just isn’t quite the same.

Incorporating Fruits and Veggies into Your Diet

Getting more fruits and veggies every day is easiest if you eat at home, as dining-out options are often scarce when it comes to having healthy vegetables and whole fruits on the menu.

When you go grocery shopping, hit the fruit-and-vegetable section first. Stock up on fruits that are easy to grab and go, like apples, bananas, and clementines. Add easy snacks, like carrots and celery sticks, to your cart. Then aim to eat two of your choices with every meal.

When dining out, perhaps the easiest way that you will score a plate full of vegetables is to order a full-size salad. Just watch out for non-veggie additions like dressings and cheese, which can quickly sabotage your health and weight-loss efforts.

Also, why not get creative? While a side of boiled broccoli might not sound appetizing, you might enjoy it cooked in flavorful Asian spices and tossed with roasted almonds. Take a look at these recipes, too:

Sources:

Information sheet: promoting fruit and vegetable consumption around the world. World Health Organization. Accessed online on May 29, 2014.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strategies to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases: the CDC guide to strategies to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2011. Accessed online on May 29, 2014.

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