Most of us know that, in the interests of good health, it’s sensible to cut our consumption of sugar, salt and unhealthy oils and fats (especially hydrogenated and trans fats), and to increase our intake of dietary fibre.
But there’s another group of foods that boasts a really classy disease-preventing profile. A whole stack of studies keeps telling us that special substances in fresh fruits and vegetables not only help reduce the risk of cancer, thrombosis, stroke, and heart and artery disease, including elevated cholesterol and high blood fats, but can also give us added protection against conditions as diverse as asthma, ulcers, dementia, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.
Many of these important food components come either from carotenoids or powerful vitamin-like substances called flavonoids, that help protect cells against oxidative damage (think of rusting metal or apples turning brown when you leave them exposed to the air – that’s oxidation).
Recent research suggests that another member of the flavonoid family, proanthocyanadins (easier to say if you split it up like this: pro-antho-cyan-a-dins), is so good at protecting our arteries that we should all be including them in our diets. So why are so many people resistant to what is obviously good advice?
? Perhaps you think healthy eating is too expensive?
? Or you've no time to shop?
? Think you can’t cook?
? Don’t like vegetables, salads or fruit?
? Got the idea that five servings is way too difficult to achieve?
The colourful info in this article might help to change your mind.
And if you’re not interested because you think it’s too late, then do re-consider. The particular nutrients and foods that I'm talking about here could be valuable even if you have longstanding health problems.
Everyone knows the Five-A-Day rule, the recommendation that we should all aim for a minimum of five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. In some countries, this is now superseded by similar campaigns such as Fruits and Vegetables: More Matters. Eating more fresh produce is still the cornerstone of official advice and yet many people still seem confused about the word ‘serving’. It sounds a lot but you could be surprised at how easy it is to reach that healthy target.
SO HOW MUCH IS A SERVING?
Here’s the easy way to work it out:
Every 3 generously heaped tablespoons of chopped, sliced or mashed vegetables such as swede (rutabaga), spring greens, kale, spinach or chard (acelgas) counts as one serving. So do 7 or 8 little florets of broccoli or cauliflower or a couple of chopped carrots. That's around half a cup in American measurements or roughly the same as you can hold in the palm of your hand.
And don't forget you only need 5 (points or servings) a day minimum. Of course if you eat more than that, then so much the better.
WHAT ABOUT POTATOES AND PEAS?
I’ve heard some folk say they do ok with their vegetable intake because they eat a lot of peas and potatoes. Hmmm, well, unfortunately that’s not really enough variety. Peas might be green and good for you but they are actually members of the pulse or legume family, unrelated to green leafy vegetables. And potatoes are classed as starch, so although we tend to think of them as veg, and it's fine to eat them, it's best to concentrate on more colourful produce if you can.
When it comes to Five-A-Day minimum, fruit is even easier to calculate than vegetables:
The colourful food groups (in the right hand column of this page) are a useful way to broaden your intake and, at the same time, enjoy trying out new ideas and flavours.
The following websites have lots of additional information:
A simple way to upgrade your diet is to choose at least one food from each of these groups every day. And the more colour you go for, the better the benefits:
Opt for Orange and Bright Red: Carotenoids aren’t limited to the orange in carrots but also give colour to apricots, papaya, peaches, pumpkin, red peppers, tomatoes, mangoes, yams, and the red flesh of cantaloupe and water melon, and sweet potatoes. They turn up in Band green foods, too. And in some grains and seeds.
Eat more Yellow: Lemons, grapefruit, pineapple, bananas, baby corns and yellow peppers not only contain carotenoids but also provide Vitamin C, another valuable antioxidant.
Go Green: Just look at the choice. Broccoli, dark leaf cabbage and lettuce, parsley, kale, watercress, spinach, courgettes, green bell peppers (capsicums), green beans, green apples and kiwi fruit. And best quality green tea. Fresh green foods are good for flavonoids and Vitamin C; some can also be great sources of carotene and iron.
Be passionate about Purples and Dark Reds: Cranberries, bilberries, black grapes or beetroot, dark red peppers, purple carrots, red apples, red onions, pomegranates, plums, raspberries, strawberries and loganberries are superfood sources of those all-important proanthocyanadins. So is a glass of good red wine!
More Easy Ways
To Increase Your Intake
1. Chop vegetables small and hide them in stews.
2. Cook a pan of mixed veg and blend into a soup. Pumpkin, carrot, onion and garlic is a fabulously health mix. Remember that pureed vegetables make a nutritious thickener for sauces and gravies.
3. Jazz things up by adding a little extra flavour to cooked vegetables. Try a pinch of pasta seasoning, grated root ginger, crushed garlic, herb salt, sautéed onions or mushrooms, fresh chopped herbs, soy sauce or balsamic vinegar dressing.
4. If you always thought that vegetables had to be crisp and al dente to be any good, take heart from research that shows a bit of overcooking isn’t the end of the world. It can help to break down the indigestible bits and make it easier for the body to absorb the vitamins and minerals.
5. Salad foods are usually far more palatable if they’re sliced finely. Use a mandolin or food processor attachment to slice raw carrot, bell peppers, mild sweet onion, and red or white cabbage to make a colourful and tasty coleslaw. And then add a few sultanas, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and (unless you are allergic to them) walnuts to the mix.
6. Dressings can lift an OK salad – or a plate of vegetables - from the ordinary to the absolutely delicious. Make your own dressing with olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, a ¼ teaspoon of sweet mustard and a level teaspoon of honey. Or find a mayonnaise made with extra virgin olive oil.
7. When you eat out, ask for vegetables to be included in your order. Unfortunately, many restaurants only use salad or veg as garnish.
8. Aim for an absolute minimum of two fresh vegetables, two pieces of fresh fruit and a salad or vegetable soup every day.
9. Don't forget that fresh fruit juices (not squashes) can add to your daily total but try to go for really fresh juice, home made if possible. If you buy from the chill counter, do check the labels as there are quite a lot of brands loaded with additives. Avoid those with added sugar or sweeteners. And remember that some so-called 'juice' drinks are stored in chiller cabinets merely as a marketing tool to make them appear 'healthier', fresher or better for you than they really are. My rule? If there are lots of ingredients included on the label other than the fruit, then don't buy the product!
10. Make sure everything you buy is as fresh as possible. Flavonoids and carotenoids are less effective once a food is processed or stored for a long time.
11. Choosing fresh produce that’s in season and locally grown makes sense because it means items are at their vitamin and mineral freshest. And there’s a lot be said for eating foods that fit naturally into the rhythm of life and the changing seasons.
12. If, after this, there is anyone out there still totally opposed to upping their intake of fruit and vegetables, at least - please - consider taking a good quality antioxidant complex or a multivitamin/mineral supplement such as those from Viridian, Biocare, Solgar or Higher Nature. Go to Kathryn's Favourite Products pages for my own favourite supplement recommendations or read my article What About Vitamins and Minerals.
© Kathryn Marsden 2007/2008/2010/2011/2012/2014
This crinkled tomato is called a Kumato or, in the U.S., a Rosso Bruno. It was developed in Spain very recently (launched to the market 2003) by a grower in Murcia and does particularly well in the salty soils of southern Spain. It's great asset is that it's edible whether ripe red or still green and has a real tomato flavour (which so many other varieties do not). The one in this picture above is more than 5" (nearly 13cm) in diameter and I'm just about to use it to make ratatouille with fresh aubergine, courgette and onion. Add a teaspoon of honey or mango chutney for a lovely sweet and healthy vegetable dish.
© photos by Richard Lewendon 2015
© photos by Richard Lewendon 2015