Importance of fruits and vegetables in human diet

By:Meena Ganagani,Practicing Clinical Nutritionist,Mumbai.

Vegetables and fruits are an important part of a healthy diet, and variety is as important as quantity. No single fruit or vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. Eat plenty every day.

Fruit and vegetables and protection against diseases

A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check. Eating non-starchy vegetables and fruits like apples, pears, and green leafy vegetables may even promote weight loss. Their low glycemic loads prevent blood sugar spikes that can increase hunger.

Eat a variety of types and colors of produce in order to give your body the mix of nutrients it needs. This not only ensures a greater diversity of beneficial plant chemicals but also creates eye-appealing meals. (1)

Scientific evidence indicates that frequent consumption of fruits and vegetables can prevent oesophageal, stomach, pancreatic, bladder and cervical cancers and that a diet high in fruits and vegetables could prevent 20% of most types of cancers (Crawford et al., 1994). According to reports, fruit and vegetable consumption is influenced by gender, age, income, education and family origin (Wardle et al., 2000; Giskes et al., 2002).(2)

Why focus on fruits and vegetables?

Low fruits and vegetable intake is among the top 10 risk factors for attributable mortality. About 2.7 million deaths could be saved with adequate fruit and vegetable consumption. Fruit and vegetable consumption helps reduce the risk of NCDs. (3)

Fruit and vegetables for good health

Fruits and vegetables are low in fat, salt and sugar. They are a good source of dietary fibre. As part of a well-balanced, regular diet and a healthy, active lifestyle, a high intake of fruit and vegetables can help you to:

  • Reduce obesity and maintain a healthy weight
  • Lower your cholesterol
  • Lower your blood pressure.(4)
Nutritional Quality of Fruits and Vegetables and their Importance in Human Health

Fruit and vegetables are packed full of goodness and often contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals that cannot be found in other types of foods or they may contain higher levels of these nutrients than other foods. They play a significant role in human nutrition, especially as sources of vitamins [C (ascorbic acid), A, thiamine (B1), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), folacin (also known as folic acid or folate) (B9), E], minerals, and dietary fiber. Their contribution as a group is estimated at 91% of vitamin C, 48% of vitamin A, 30% of folacin, 27% of vitamin B6, 17% of thiamine, and 15% of niacin in the diet.

Fruits and vegetables also supply 16% of magnesium, 19% of iron, and 9% of the calories. Legume vegetables contribute about 5% of the per capita availability of proteins in the diet as their proteins are of high quality due to their content of essential amino acids. Other important nutrients supplied by fruits and vegetables include riboflavin (B2), zinc, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. (5)

How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Help Manage Your Weight

Using more fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, lean meats, nuts, and beans, is a safe and healthy way to lose or maintain weight. In addition, diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some types of cancer and other chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables also provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and other substances that are important for good health.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to eat less food. You can create lower-calorie versions of some of your favorite dishes by substituting low-calorie fruits and vegetables in place of higher-calorie ingredients. The water and fiber in fruits and vegetables will add volume to your dishes, so you can eat the same amount of food with fewer calories. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and are filling. (6)

Fruits and veggies good for energy

Eating a variety of fruits and veggies will provide your body with different vitamins and minerals that work towards making energy. Potatoes for instance provide complex carbohydrates that your body will use for fuel. The fiber in potatoes makes you feel full and less hungry and keeps your blood sugar from spiking rapidly. The starch in potatoes is broken down into glucose and is either used right away for energy or stored in your muscles as glycogen for later use. Vitamin C-rich foods such as oranges and strawberries help the body absorb iron found in foods like spinach and meat. Iron is needed to oxygenate your blood, contract muscles and aid brain function. (7)

The FASSI guideline

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FASSI), which is an autonomous body established under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, recently posted some guideline on their social media handle on how to keep your fruits and vegetables clean at this time. Here are 5 things that you must follow:

1. Do not put the fruits and vegetables bought from vendors immediately in the refrigerator. Keep them within the packet itself in an isolated place.

2. Put the vegetables and fruits in a big container and wash them thoroughly with water. You can also put a drop of 50ppm chlorine in warm water and dip them in it for a few minutes.

3. Always clean them with potable or clean drinking water.

4. Disinfectants, cleaning wipes or soap should not be used on fresh produce.

5. After cleaning the fruits and vegetables properly, put them in the correct places. The one required to be refrigerated in the refrigerator and the rest at room temperature in baskets or racks. (8)

The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines recommend adults eat anywhere from 5 to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day depending on age, gender, physical activity, and overall health.(9)

References:

  1. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vegetables-and-fruits/
  2. https://www.intechopen.com/books/diabetes-mellitus-insights-and-perspectives/the-role-of-fruit-and-vegetable-consumption-in-human-health-and-disease-prevention
  3. http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/agphome/documents/horticulture/WHO/fiji/Hoejskov_Fruits_vegs_health_food_safety.pdf
  4. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/fruit-and-vegetables
  5. https://www.ru.org/index.php/health/341-nutritional-quality-of-fruits-and-vegetables-and-their-importance-in-human-health
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/fruits_vegetables.html
  7. https://fruitsandveggies.org/expert-advice/list-fruits-veggies-good-energy/
  8. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/the-right-way-to-clean-your-fruits-and-vegetables-as-per-fassi/photostory/76784770.cms?picid=76784873
  9. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/fruits

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