According to statistics, Americans are chronically lacking in fruits and vegetables in their diet. Fruits and vegetables are vital for good health and are outstanding sources of essential vitamins and minerals. In addition they provide other dietary compounds with powerful chronic disease risk reduction potential.
The American Institute for Cancer Research provided new recommendations in 2002 for 9 servings per day. The USDA (in a 1999 survey) found that the number one vegetable eaten was potatoes and number two was iceberg lettuce – these are not as desirable as the dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.) and deeply-colored orange and yellow vegetables.
Since they are the healthiest things we can possibly put in our body, many doctors make it a point to recommend that all their patients eat dark leafy greens every day. We routinely throw out the greens and the peelings that have the most nutrients. Then, we overcook our vegetables and throw out the water which now has most of what's left of the nutrients!
Based on growing scientific evidence, the incidence of coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis and stroke can be reduced through increased fruit and vegetable consumption, as can that of the major cancers of the Western world such as cancer of the stomach, lung, mouth, esophagus, colon and rectum. Fruit and vegetables also play a preventive role in birth defects, cataract formation, hypertension, asthma, diverticulosis, obesity and diabetes.
Carbohydrates are the most efficient fuel for energy production and can also be stored as glycogen in muscle and liver, functioning as a readily available energy source for prolonged, strenuous exercise. For these reasons, carbohydrates may be the most important nutrient for sports performance. Depending on training intensity and duration, athletes require up to 4.5 grams of carbohydrates per day per pound of body weight or 60-70% of total dietary calories from carbohydrates, whichever is greater. Emphasizing intake of fruits and other high-quality carbohydrates while reducing intake of fatty foods may be beneficial for athletic performance.
Patients undergoing dialysis may develop low levels of vitamin C, which can lead to capillary fragility. As little as 100mg per day may help people with artificially induced fragility, an amount that can be obtained by eating several pieces of fruit per day. For others, higher amounts may be necessary (1gm or more), which requires vitamin C supplementation. Widespread plant compounds called flavonoids help strengthen weakened capillaries. In test tube and animal studies, they have been shown to protect collagen, one of the most important components of capillary walls. Flavonoids are abundant in fruits, although increasing fruit consumption alone may not be sufficient to prevent or reverse capillary fragility. Studies showing a benefit to capillary integrity from flavonoids have used dietary flavonoid supplements. For these reasons and more, eating plenty of fruit will provide many of the nutrients that support the structure of capillaries.
If your typical meal is dominated by food that is white, brown and gray then what you are eating is probably making you old. Instead, think "color and crunch." Eat meals that are dominated by juicy, crunchy foods rich in reds, oranges, purples and greens.
Fruit and vegetable consumption (a minimum of five portions daily) was associated with modest reductions of systolic and diastolic blood pressures in a controlled study of 690 healthy people ages 25-64. [Lancet May 28, 2002]
A diet high in fiber helps prevent coronary heart disease. Eating fruits high in the soluble fiber pectin has also been linked with reduced cholesterol levels, which protects against atherosclerosis.
Whole fruit and fruit and vegetable juice, both high in potassium, are recommended by some doctors for congestive heart failure (CHF). This dietary change should, however, be discussed with a healthcare provider because several drugs given to people with CHF can actually cause retention of potassium, making dietary potassium, even from fruit, dangerous. Bananas are a rich source of potassium and need to be avoided in persons taking potassium-sparing diuretics.
Many people eat insufficient amounts of foods containing vitamin C; the disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, scurvy, causes easy bruising. While very few people actually have scurvy, even minor deficiencies of vitamin C can increase bruising. Fruits are common dietary sources of vitamin C.
Fruit consumption alone has been linked to lower rates of numerous cancers [Cancer Causes and Control 7 (1996): p.178] and may reduce heart disease mortality, cancer and even total mortality. [British Medical Journal 313 (1996): p.775] The World Health Organization blames low fruit and vegetable consumption on literally millions of deaths worldwide. [World Health Organization. Fruit, vegetables and NCD prevention] Everyone should eat more fruits and vegetables as if their lives depended on it.
Fruit can often be used as a natural replacement for sugar, for example raisins or dates to sweeten baked goods, bananas on cereal, or pure fruit juice to replace soft drinks and thus avoid the refined sugars within.
With their high water content, fruits and vegetables can help keep the body hydrated.
In one trial, patients (rather than doctors) were asked which foods aggravated Crohn's disease symptoms. Those without an ileostomy said that raw fruit and tomatoes were among the most problematic foods, though responses varied from person to person, and other reports have come up with different lists. People with Crohn's disease wishing to identify and avoid potential problem foods should consult a doctor.
A proper diet, particularly for those persons with diabetes, will help delay retinopathy.
There is evidence that eating fresh fruits and dark green, leafy vegetables (such as spinach and collard greens) may delay or reduce the severity of age-related macular degeneration.
A diet high in fiber from natural sources such as raw fruits and vegetables, whole grain products and beans increases elimination of estrogen from the body. Foods that promote breast health are flaxseed oil, garlic, cabbage, rosemary and turmeric. Eat foods that promote liver health and detoxify the body such as onions, leeks, carrots, kale, beets, lemons, artichokes, cauliflower and broccoli.
Many people who are dependent on laxatives feel that they must keep on using them because otherwise they become very constipated. A natural way to break this cycle involves eating 1-2 pieces of dried fruit a day, drinking at least 6 glasses of water a day, exercising daily, and stopping all laxative use. There may be no bowel movement for several days, and it may be very hard, but after that the body should settle down to some sort of schedule. It is not necessary to have bowel movements every day; so long as the stools are soft, things are working normally. If dried fruit is not what you like to eat, apples are a good alternative. If, after 2 weeks, you are not feeling any better, go see your doctor. There are some medical conditions that are associated with chronic constipation, which you should be checked for if diet changes do not help.
Based on their clinical experience and on very preliminary research, several doctors have suggested that a number of dietary factors may promote the overgrowth of Candida. Dried fruits, which are high in sugar, have been blamed for contributing to promotion of Candida overgrowth. Sugars avoidance is a standard recommendation on any anti-candidal diet.
To lose weight, you can either cut down on calorie intake by restricting the amount of food you eat, or you can transition away from eating junk food (foodstuffs long on calories but short on nutrition) toward eating food that is nutrient-dense, but relatively calorie-dilute: foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.
Fruit contains several things that are of benefit, including a sugar (fructose) that does not cause wild glucose swings, trace minerals, and fiber which slows glucose absorption.
Eat plenty of fresh green, leafy vegetables and colored foods, such as kale, tomatoes and peppers. These foods are great sources of bone-building nutrients like calcium and vitamin K. Eat other foods high in calcium and magnesium such as seeds and nuts, broccoli, brown rice, avocado, and beans.
Especially recommended are cherries. Liberal amounts (up to 1 pound per day) of cherries, blueberries, and other anthocyanoside-rich (i.e. red-blue) berries or extracts should be consumed. Consuming fresh or canned cherries has been shown to be very effective in lowering uric acid levels and preventing attacks of gout. Cherries, hawthorn berries, blueberries, and other dark red-blue berries are rich sources of anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins. These compounds are flavonoid molecules that give these fruits their deep red-blue color, and are remarkable in their ability to prevent collagen destruction.
Studies suggest that eating just one serving of dark leafy greens or broccoli each day can cut your risk of hip fracture in half. A diet low in green leafy vegetables can be low in vitamin K. Vegetarians have on average greater bone mass than meat eaters.
Eating carbohydrate-containing foods, including some fruits, temporarily raises blood sugar and insulin levels. On the other hand, a diet rich in the soluble fiber found in fruit may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, despite the high carbohydrate content of most fruit.
High-fiber supplements, such as pectin from fruit, have been found to improve glucose tolerance in some studies. A review of the research revealed that the extent to which moderate amounts of fiber help people with diabetes in the long term is still unknown, and the lack of many long-term studies has led some researchers to question the importance of fiber in improving diabetes. Nonetheless, most doctors advise people with diabetes to eat a diet high in fiber. Focus should be placed on fruits, vegetables, seeds, oats and whole-grain products.
Vitamin C, present in fruits, is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Its anti-inflammatory activity may decrease the incidence of asthma symptoms. A large preliminary study has shown that young children with asthma experience significantly less wheezing if they eat a diet high in fruits rich in vitamin C.
Dietary consumption of apples and selenium intake (assessed by food frequency questionnaire) were each associated with a reduced risk of asthma in a case-control study (607 cases and 864 controls) of adults aged 16-50 in England. [Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2001;164(10): pp.1823-8]
A diet high in antioxidants may protect against the free-radical-damaging effect of environmental toxins or cigarette smoke. Studies comparing different populations have shown that increasing fruit consumption appears to reduce the risk of developing chronic bronchitis.
Eczema can be triggered by allergies, and according to data from double-blind research most children with eczema have food allergies. However, classical food allergens are often not the cause of eczema in adults. A variety of substances have been shown, in a controlled trial, to trigger eczema reactions in susceptible individuals; avoidance of these substances, such as aromatic compounds found in fruits, has similarly been shown to improve eczema. These reactions do not represent true food allergies, but are instead a type of food sensitivity reaction. The authors of this study did not identify which substances are the most common triggers of the condition.
Some – but not all – studies have reported that eating more fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene was associated with a lower risk of cataracts. It remains unclear whether natural beta-carotene from food or supplements would protect the eye or whether beta-carotene in food is merely a marker for other protective factors in fruits and vegetables high in beta-carotene.
Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables (which contain antioxidant vitamins) will reduce the risk of stomach problems, including cancer.
A meta-analysis of 12 separate studies comparing breast cancer risk to diet found that high consumption of fruit was associated with a 6% reduction of breast cancer compared to low consumption.
Consumption of fruits is widely accepted as lowering the risk of most common cancers except prostate cancer. Many doctors recommend that people wishing to reduce their risk of cancer eat several pieces of fruit and several portions of vegetables every day. Optimal intakes remain unknown.
It was suggested in 1970 by Burkitt that dietary fiber reduces the risk of colorectal cancer, based on lower rates of this cancer in populations eating a high fiber diet. The RDA of total fiber is 20-30gm. In Scotland, for example, where the average fiber intake is very low at only 2-3gm per day, there is a very high incidence of colon cancer.
Since then, numerous studies and meta-analyses have been performed, with mixed results. The situation is complicated by there being various different types of dietary fiber, by the long periods of time involved (colon cancer can take decades to develop). The overall consensus is that, yes, a high fiber diet does reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer – and eating a healthy, high fiber diet is good for many other reasons too.
Many studies involve only short-term adjustments to diet, or one specific fiber such as wheat bran. Convincing epidemiological evidence suggests that a healthy diet has its greatest preventive effect as a lifelong commitment, not as a temporary measure.
Dr. Tim Byers, M.D., M.P.H. from the University of Colorado School of Medicine stated that "...observational studies around the world continue to find that the risk of colorectal cancer is lower among populations with high intakes of fruits and vegetables and that the risk changes on adoption of a different diet, but we still do not understand why." [NEJM, January 22, 1999, NEJM 342: pp.1149-62, 2000.]
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