What do fruit and vegetables contain and why are they good for us?

fruit vegetables
Surely everyone has heard by now that the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables is 5 portions. Government health departments and agencies all over the world have been expounding this for a number of years now, even more so now when faced with a growing nation of unhealthy and in many cases obese and unfit people.

In some instances, the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables is steadily rising to up to 13 portions a day, in the hope of encouraging people to become more healthy and look after their body, inside and out.

Keeps our body healthy

What's so good about fruit and vegetables you cry?

Well, nowadays, due to the results of extensive research, we cannot get away from the fact that they are extremely good for us, and that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can lower the risk of and prevent a number of serious illnesses and health problems, such as cancer, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

We mustn't forget either that the majority of fruit and vegetables contain no unhealthy fats or cholesterol and are very low in calories, all of which will help us to maintain a fantastic figure and prevent us from piling on the pounds.

Too many diet-related illnesses

Pressure is put on our hospitals and governments as many of today's illnesses are related to diet and could be avoided if people looked after themselves and ate more sensibly and healthily. Admittedly, a huge amount of money could be saved and thus spent in other areas of the national healthcare system where it was needed.

Statistics have shown that between 35 - 50% of cancer cases are related to diet, which is an astonishing amount, considering that all of these cases could have been averted.

What's in our fruit and vegetables?

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 are made up of water, melons up to 94%, which is also essential for the body and their skin and seeds contain plenty of fibre, which our body needs to help cleanse and rid itself of waste and toxins. Fibre is needed to keep bowel movements regular, lower cholesterol, prevent constipation, bowel cancer and other illnesses of the bowel and intestine such as diverticulosis.

Different coloured fruits and vegetables contain different minerals, nutrients and antioxidants and therefore it is recommended that we consume a wide variety of fruit and vegetables in order to receive the benefits from the various types.

For example, dark green leafy vegetables such as watercress, cabbage or spinach contain certain carotenoids that protect, delay and may prevent the onset of degenerative age-related eye diseases such as cataracts or macular degeneration.

They are also rich in vitamins C and E, which are both very powerful antioxidants. This means that eating dark green vegetables daily could help to protect the body from developing cancerous cells and from suffering heart disease.

Red, orange and yellow coloured fruits and vegetables such as melon, tomatoes, carrots and apricots contain lots of vitamins A, C and E, which all help to fight certain types of cancer and act by neutralising free radicals in the body.

As well as containing large amounts of vitamins A, C and E, fruits and vegetables are also rich in vitamins B and K plus minerals such as potassium, calcium, phosphorous, manganese and iron.

Exactly how much is 1 portion of fruit or vegetables?

Now, we are told that we should eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, but exactly how much is one portion? The guidelines below will give you some idea. Ensure that you vary your intake of fruit and vegetables as much as possible by trying new foods and different recipes. Don't always stick to the same foods, as you could find that you are still lacking in some nutrients. Make sure that you include a variety of foods in a variety of colours - the brighter the better.
  • 1 portion = 80 g = 3 oz = ½ cup = 3 tbsp
  • 1 medium piece of fruit (apple, pear, orange, banana)
  • 1 handful of grapes or cherries
  • 2 small fruits such as plums, apricots
  • 1 slice of large fruit eg: pineapple or melon
  • 1 glass of fruit or vegetable juice
  • 1 small packet of dried fruit such as prunes, raisins,
  • ½ avocado or grapefruit
  • small side salad
  • 1 large tomato or 6 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small tin of fruit (150 - 200 g)
  • 3 large tbsp of vegetables
  • 3 tbsp of pulses - chickpeas, beans, lentils
  • 1 corn on the cob
  • 1 bunch of watercress or rocket

Fresh, frozen or tinned?

As long as you are consuming lots of fruit and vegetables, it doesn't really matter whether they are raw, cooked, tinned, dried, fresh or frozen.

Obviously, care must be taken with tinned fruit, as it is often kept in a sweet syrup, which can cause tooth decay and other problems.

Fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season are the best, as if they are eaten raw and as fresh as possible, valuable nutrients are less likely to be lost.

Care must also be taken when cooking vegetables, as boiling them in lots of water can destroy up to 70% of vitamin C and other water-soluble nutrients. When boiling vegetables, use only a small amount of water, about 2cm, and cut the vegetables into small pieces in order to reduce cooking time.

On the other hand, steaming is a better method of cooking because the vegetables do not actually come into contact with the water.

It is also important to know that fruit and vegetables should be thoroughly washed in water in order to remove, dirt, insects and pesticides, however, they should not be left to soak in water, otherwise vitamins and minerals will also be lost in this way.

How you can include more fruit and vegetables in your diet

Once you start to eat healthily and if you couple this with a number of exercise sessions throughout the week, you will soon start to see and feel the benefits. You will lose weight, have more energy, feel happier, look better and generally be healthier.

It might seem traumatic initially, but once you get into a routine, it'll become second nature and you won't know why you kicked up such a fuss in the first place.

If you generally do not eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and are finding it difficult to add a few more portions to your daily diet, here are a few ideas to start you off:
  • Start the day with a glass of freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice
  • Add sliced banana, strawberries, kiwi to your breakfast cereal
  • Have a fruit smoothie for breakfast made with banana, yoghurt and other fruit
  • Add lettuce, sliced tomato, cucumber and rocket to sandwiches
  • Add diced red, orange and green pepper to tuna mayonnaise
  • Choose dried fruit snacks over crisps or chocolate
  • Add sliced fruit to yoghurt or other desserts
  • Choose healthy dips with vegetable crudités over unhealthy snacks
  • Make healthy homemade vegetable soups for lunch or dinner
  • Always have a side salad of lettuce, cucumber, tomato and onion with your meal
  • Try different and exotic salads for a change
  • Try to eat 3 different vegetables with your main meal
  • Have a fruit salad for dessert
  • Make healthy risottos or couscous with fresh vegetables

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