Many people prefer to obtain nutrients from vitamins and supplements rather than fresh fruits and vegetables. However, by leaving fresh produce out of your diet, you are depriving your body of nutrients that it cannot get anywhere else. Besides vitamins and minerals, there are components in plant-foods called phytonutrients that, although not essential for life, may positively influence and promote human health. Based on scientific evidence, the federal guidelines recommend that adults eat at least 1½ to 2 cups per day of fruit and 2 to 3 cups per day of vegetables, depending on their age and sex. This means at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. Although for most people, eating more vegetables wouldn’t hurt. Note: the guidelines suggest an average of twice the amount of vegetables than fruits, so it wouldn’t be healthy to avoid vegetables and eat all the 5 portions of fruit.
According to research, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, reduce cardiovascular and stroke risk, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of macular degeneration, reduce constipation and other digestive problems, and manage blood sugar, appetite, and body weight. These protective and disease-preventing benefits of phytonutrients are mainly related to their powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, but they also can enhance the immune system and intercellular communication, repair DNA damage from exposure to toxins, detoxify carcinogens, and regulate hormonal system and immunity, among other things.
At least 900 different phytonutrients have been identified in plants: including fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. Some of the most common phytonutrients include phenols, flavonoids, isoflavones, terpenes, glucosinolates, carotenoids, ellagic acid, resveratrol, glucosinolates, sulforaphanes, indoles, and lycopene.
Below a quick guide from the American Institute for Cancer Research with the name, source and possible health benefits of some of the most common phytonutrients:
Plants start losing vitamins and phytonutrients as soon as the product is harvested, due to sun exposure, high-temperature cooking methods, and prolonged cooking times. The more time that passes after the harvest, the more nutrients the produce will lose. According to experts from the University of California-Davis, fruits and vegetables grown in North America may spend up to 5 days in transit following harvest before arriving at a distribution center. Fruits and vegetables grown in the southern hemisphere for winter and spring consumption in the U.S. may take days to weeks to arrive to the U.S. depending on transportation by air or ship. Once in the retail store, fruits and vegetables may spend 1–3 days (or more) on display prior to being purchased by the consumer, who may store them for up to 7 days before consumption. This means that fresh fruits and vegetables may not be consumed for a significant length of time following harvest, during which time nutrient degradation may occur.
Eating local produce, consuming raw vegetables daily, and choosing quick cooking methods (such as sautéed, quick steam, stir-frying, grilling, roasting, or microwaving) may help to increase your phytonutrient intake. There is a close correlation between deep, bright colors and the number of vitamins and phytonutrients in your produce. The more you cook, the more the produce loses color and nutrients.
- For information about local produce visit: http://ediblenortheastflorida.ediblecommunities.com/shop/local-farmers-markets
- To learn more about what counts as a serving size of fruits and vegetable visit: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/add-color/fruits-and-vegetables-serving-sizes
The recipe of the week was adapted from www.hellonutritarian.com
Rainbow Salad with Hummus & Balsamic Dressing
- 2 to 3 cups leaf lettuce, chopped
- 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup cucumber, chopped
- 1/2 to 1/3 cup extra-creamy hummus
- 1/4 cup bell pepper, chopped
- 1/4 cup raw carrots, diced
- 1/4 cup red cabbage, diced
- 1/4 cup green onion, diced
- Balsamic vinegar, to taste
- 1/2 to 1 tbsp raw sesame seeds
Chop and rinse leaf lettuce and dry. Place in large bowl and top with bell peppers, carrots, red cabbage, and green onion. Top with 1/2 to 1/3 cup hummus and drizzle salad with balsamic vinegar.
Optionally, you can use a cashew dressing. Below is a recipe provided by one of our patients.
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup raw cashews
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast (gives it a cheesy flavor)
- ½ cup roasted red pepper or 1 whole raw red pepper
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
Start your blender gradually (about 1 min). Increase the speed until you reach the highest setting and blend on high for another 3 minutes or so until you see steam rise. (I just blend everything until it’s all a liquid). This should last about 3-4 days.
Have a wonderful weekend!
Karen Alexander, MS, RDN, LD/N