Health Benefits of a Diet High in Fruits & Vegetables

Health Benefits of a Diet High in Fruits & Vegetables
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March is National Nutrition Month and healthy living is directly tied to what we eat and how it affects our entire body.  This article breaks down the importance of fruits and vegetables in living a nutritious lifestyle.

Remember Mom telling you to “eat your vegetables?” Well, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, that was pretty good advice. In an article on their website http://www.hsph.harvard.edu (“Vegetables and Fruits: Get Plenty Every Day”), studies are referenced that suggest that fruits and vegetables have numerous health benefits, ranging from gastrointestinal health to healthy eyes. They are also linked to heart health and a reduced risk of stroke, and possibly some cancer related benefits.

The biggest benefit of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables seems to be overall cardiovascular health. In one study (Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study) that included almost 110,000 men and women whose health and dietary habits were followed for 14 years, the findings were that the higher the average daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. In particular, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and mustard greens, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, and citrus fruits and their juices seemed to be especially beneficial in lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke.

When Harvard researchers combined their findings with those of several other long-term studies in both the U.S. and Europe, they concluded that individuals who ate more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day had roughly a 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, compared with individuals who ate less than 3 servings per day.

In a couple of other studies (the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study and the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health), a significant lowering of previously high blood pressure was seen when saturated fat intake was restricted and replaced with a diet high in fruits and vegetables. The decrease in blood pressure observed by those performing the DASH study was as high as what can be accomplished by treating high blood pressure with medication.

As far as the effect on cancer, the conclusion reached by the article’s author is that while not all of the studies done linking vegetable and fruit intake to a reduction in cancer are reliable, there may be a link between certain types of veggies and protection against certain types of cancer.

For instance, a report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests that non-starchy vegetables—such as lettuce and other leafy greens, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, garlic and onions, “probably” protect against several types of cancers, including those of the mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, and stomach; fruit probably also protects against lung cancer. The author goes on to suggest that “specific components of fruits and vegetables may also be protective against cancer,” such as the lycopene in tomatoes. Lycopene is a carotenoid (compounds that the body can turn into vitamin A) found in many brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and may protect against prostate, lung, mouth, and throat cancer.

A benefit of a diet high in fruits and vegetables that isn’t questioned is the effect that the fiber they provide has a positive effect on the digestive system. Fruits and veggies can help with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), constipation, and may help prevent diverticulosis (the development of tiny, easily irritated pouches inside the colon) and diverticulitis (the often painful inflammation of these pouches).

Lastly, the article suggests that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps the eyes. Dark leafy green vegetables and brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as corn and kiwi, contain two pigments (lutein and zeaxanthin) that accumulate in the eye and protect against free radicals. This appears to aid in the fight against both cataracts and macular degeneration. So Mom was right…carrots can help you see better. Especially at night.

Written by: Tricia Doane, FizzNiche Staff Writer

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