“Eat more plants, mostly leaves.” – Michael Pollen
In my last post, I introduced general evidence-based food rules. Starting this week, I’ll explore these food rules in more detail, and translate each rule into practical tips and easy recipes.
My first and personal favorite, Eat More Fruit and Vegetables. For me, this is an easy rule to follow. I love nothing more than a sweet cup of deep red, juicy cherries for a late afternoon pick-me up; a nourishing bowl of red, yellow orange and green minestrone at the end of a cold winter’s day; or a rainbow colored salad of crisp greens, deep roasted vegetables, and crunchy nuts or seeds at lunch. I love the rainbow hues of fruits and vegetables, the way they brighten my plate and leave me feeling hydrated and energized.
If fruits and vegetables have never been your thing, I hope the following facts and recipes will prompt you to give these plant world stars another try:
- Fruits and vegetables tend to be nutrient dense but not energy dense.
Fruits and vegetables are the relatively low-calorie powerhouses of the food world, providing high levels of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber important phytochemicals including plant sterols, flavonoids and other anti-oxidants) that power the body’s ability to function optimally, fight noncommunicable disease and maintain a healthy weight.
Dark leafy greens are food superpowers. A variety of greens – including kale, spinach, collards, chard, mustard greens, arugula, bok choy and watercress -provide the body with antioxidant vitamins A, C and E; B vitamins including folate; minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium; omega 3 fatty acids; and carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, while having almost no calories and carbohydrates.
One recent study tied greater intake of leafy green vegetables to slower risk of cognitive decline in older adults, while studies cited below show protective effects for blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.
- Many fruits and vegetables are high in potassium, which plays an important role in lowering blood pressure by balancing the preponderance of salt (sodium) in the American diet. The fruit and vegetable rich Dash Diet has been shown to lower blood pressure as much as medication.
- Spinach tops the list of potassium rich vegetables, but other leafy greens such as kale, collards, chard and mustard greens, escarole, broccoli and brussel sprouts, deep orange winter squashes and sweet potatoes, whole potatoes with skin, radishes, mushrooms, and tomatoes are all high in potassium. Potassium rich fruits include cantaloupe and honeydew (at the top of the list), bananas, apricots, nectarines, plums, blackberries, raspberries, mangos, papayas, oranges and. Low fat dairy and dried beans (especially white beans) are also good potassium sources.
- High intake of fruits and vegetables may reduce risk of other chronic diseases.
- Several long term studies and meta-analyses of shorter studies found that higher intake of fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and citrus fruits) reduced risk of death from, and incidence of, cardiovascular disease. In oner study, people who ate the most daily servings of fruits and vegetables (anywhere from 6 to 8 or more) had a 20-30% lower risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease than those who ate the least.
- A large, long term study found that greater consumption of whole fruits – especially blueberries, grapes and apples – was associated with lower risk of developing type two diabetes while greater consumption of fruit juice was associated with higher risk. A Finnish study found that higher intake of both fruits and vegetables (especially berries, which are relatively low carbohydrate, high fiber fruits) was associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes. . One British study found no overall link but did find that higher intake of leafy greens was associated with lover incidence of type 2 diabetes.
- Nutritionists were surprised when large, long term cohort studies found no link between increased fruit and vegetable intake and overall cancer risk.
However, preventative effects were found for breast cancer, with two studies finding protective effects from increased intake during adolescence and early adulthood. One study found that premenopausal women who ate more than 5.5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day had an 11% lower risk of breast cancer compared to those who ate less than 2.5 servings per day, with greater effects for certain aggressive tumors. Evidence for several other cancers exists but is not as strong.
So, how do you start adding fruits and vegetables to your diet?
- Replace processed snack foods with fresh fruit and veggies (apples and peanut butter, berries and plain Greek yogurt or skyr, raw veggies and hummus) to swap potassium for sodium. Keep bowls of whole fruit on your kitchen counter and desk. Stock your refrigerator with washed berries, cut up melon and ready to eat raw veggies.