Fruits and Vegetables
By: Kimberly Boone, University of Memphis Master’s Candidate and Dietetic Intern
How many of us have heard heard the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Well, lets just say there is definitely validity to that statement. In this months blog we will be discussing how to distinguish a fruit from a vegetable, why all fruits and vegetables are vitally important to include in our diets, healthful ways of preparation, and tips to include more of them in our daily routine.
A fruit is classified by botanist as being the mature ovary of a plant that develops from a flower. Fruits are also the part of the plant that contain seeds either internally or externally. With this definition in mind, although commonly referred to as being vegetables, avocados and cucumbers are technically fruits. All other parts of a plant i.e., stem, leaves, bulbs, flowers, seeds and roots, are vegetables (1). For example, celery is a stem. Lettuce is composed of leaves. Broccoli is the flower. Onions are bulbs. Beans are seeds. Carrots are roots, etc.
When compared with their animal-derived counterparts, fruits and vegetables are generally lower in both calories, fat and sodium. Since they do not contain a liver (primary organ responsible for the production of cholesterol) neither fruits nor vegetables contain any dietary cholesterol. Moreover, fruits and vegetables contain beneficial phytochemicals such as antioxidants and are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, and vitamin C (2,3).
Simply put, the intake of fruits and vegetables provides health benefits. Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce the risk for developing chronic diseases such as heart disease (including heart attack and stroke), obesity and type 2 diabetes. Eating those that are higher in potassium i.e., sweet potatoes, white beans, bananas and prunes, may also help to lower blood pressure. Additionally, the consumption of fruits and vegetables may protect against certain types of cancers. In fact, 32 out of the 33 foods listed by the American Institute for Cancer Research as being “Foods that Fight Cancer” are fruits and vegetables (4). Dietary fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower the risk of heart disease. Fiber-containing foods also provide a feeling of fullness and assist to maintain regularity in bowel function. Folate (folic acid) aids in the synthesis of red blood cells and is especially important for women of childbearing age to reduce the chance of neural tube defects during pregnancy. Vitamin A benefits the eyes and skin while vitamin C helps to protect against infections, aids in wound healing and increases iron absorption (2,3).
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people should aim for 2 cups of fruit a day, and 2 ½ cups of vegetables. In reality, the usual adult eats 1 cup of fruit a day and about 1 ½ cups of vegetables (5). In the South we have what is called the “southern style” way of cooking. This usually includes the addition of bacon grease, butter, and salt finished off with frying in many cases. This preparation style leads to the degradation of many of the nutrients explained previously. Several nutrients, such as vitamin C and the B-vitamins, are heat sensitive. Instead of boiling a vegetable to death or tossing in a fryer, lightly sautéing or steaming are better options to keep the nutrient content intact (6).
There are several tips and tricks addressing how to include more fruits and vegetables into the diet. Buying foods in season leads to cheaper cost and usually better flavor. Purchasing easy to prepare vegetables and fruits , such as frozen, prewashed or steamable bags, will make it more convenient. It is also important to purchase a variety of vegetables and fruits and avoid the monotonous staples. Experiment with herbs and spices to add flavor. You could even let your child go with you to help pick out a new fruit and vegetable every week to make it a family affair (7).
There are a myriad of reasons as to why fruits and vegetables should be consumed regularly. Turns out, the generations ahead of us were not being cruel when telling us to, “Eat your broccoli!” and scolding us when they caught us feeding it to the family dog. Fruits and vegetables are indeed necessary to achieve an optimum meal plan. They can be a delicious addition to our daily routine in order to benefit our health and quality of being!