By Holly Van Tassel, B.S.
Eating more fruits and veggies can boost your energy, super-size your stamina, reduce your risk of disease, and slim your body.
While it may sound like a pitch from your local supermarket, diets consistently rich in fruits and vegetables are known for reducing the risk of cancer, cutting the chance of heart disease as well as improving a host of other maladies.
The research may be complex, but the bottom line is simple. Plants contain a unique combination of nutrients and compounds that, try as we might, cannot be found in any one supplement or pill.
A large collaborative trial called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), conducted by institutions including Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Duke University, found high fruit and vegetable intake had significantly greater effects on reducing blood pressure in individuals with borderline high blood pressure than when compared with those taking high doses of dietary supplements.
Researchers from the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition have found that consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables each day is strongly correlated with a decrease in many forms of cancer. Preliminary data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition reports similar findings, stating that there is a strong inverse relationship between high fruit and vegetable consumption and cancer risk.
Still not convinced? The American Institute for Cancer Research has stated that, if the only change a person made was to eat more than five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, cancer rates would drop by as much as 20%!
Step 1: Know what's meant by a serving
Think of your plate in terms of fractions, with half covered by vegetables or fruits; one-fourth covered by complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread or pasta, brown rice or lentils and beans; and the last quarter covered with a lean meat such as turkey, chicken or fish.
It all comes back to the beginning: Enough for what? If you think solely in terms of eating enough to meet your needs and to get by, then five fruits and vegetables may be enough. If disease prevention, longevity, healthy appearance, feelings of well-being and the like are your goals, then it is time to up the ante with eight to 10 servings a day.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, it shouldn’t take much science to understand that more is better — you can feel it on your own by simply eating what nature provides. Bottom line: Five a day is good, but eight-plus is best — so err on the high side and reap the benefits for today, tomorrow and years to come.
Holly Van Tassel is a recent graduate of the Dietetic Internship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She received a B.S. in nutrition from the University of Minnesota. She has begun her graduate studies at Tufts University.