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14 Reasons to Make Produce a Priority

0 Comments 🕔21.Feb 2017

14 Reasons to Make Produce a Priority

The 2005 U.S. dietary guidelines recommend more fruits and vegetables for everyone—a total of two and a half cups per day for those on a 1200-calorie plan, three and a half cups for those eating 1600 calories, and four and a half cups for those eating 200 calories per day. Moreover, the new guidelines are specific about what kinds of vegetables to choose: dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables.

Why so much priority on produce? Fruits and vegetables are the best nutritional bargain around! They are low in calories and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, and folic acid. “Big deal,” you may be thinking. “I can get all those from vitamins and supplements.” Not so fast! Fruits and vegetables are also rich in chemicals known as phytonutrients—or, literally, nutrients from plants. Phytonutrients can be found in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and even herbs. Several of these phytonutrients have been found to offer protection against heart disease, cancer, and other ailments.

So why aren’t phytonutrient supplements available? Consider that an orange has more than 170 known phytonutients—more than scientists could possibly distill into pills and powders. No, to get maximum benefits from phytochemicals, you need to eat a variety of plant-based foods.

But which phytochemicals are most beneficial, and where can they be found? The following chart provides a run-down of some of the major phytochemicals, the benefits they offer, and which foods

Phytochemical Function Sources
Flavonoids
Anthocyanins may decrease risk of cancer as well as urinary tract infections strawberries, cherries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes and black currants
Catechins may decrease the risk of coronary heart disease as well as the risk of gastric, esophageal, and skin cancers green or black tea and wine
Flavanones may lower lower blood pressure, inflammation, and levels of LDL cholesterol (shown in animal studies; not yet proven in humans) citrus fruits
Isoflavones may help maintain bone health, improve menopausal symptoms, and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels soy foods such as soymilk, tofu, miso (Note: Discuss the use of soy foods, particularly isoflavone supplements, with your physician if you have any concerns relating to breast cancer.)
Quercetin may decrease the risk of cancer and protect against LDL oxidation red and yellow onions, kale, broccoli, red grapes, cherries, apples
Resveratrol supports the normal, healthy function of the heart red wine, red grapes (and red grape juice)
Carotenoids
Beta Carotene may reduce cancer risk, slow process of aging green and yellow/orange vegetables and fruits such as spinach, broccoli, squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and apricots (Note: fiber may hinder the absorption of carotenoids, while fat may increase it.)
Lutein may reduce the risk of cancer and is important in maintaining healthy vision (may decrease likelihood of developing macular degeneration and cataracts) various green vegetables including broccoli, greens (spinach, Romaine, kale)
Lycopene may decrease the risk of prostate cancer, as well as heart attack most red fruits and vegetables, with the exception of red peppers; this includes tomatoes, watermelon, guava, and pink grapefruit
Other Phytochemicals
Allyl Sulfides may reduce cancer risk, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and maintain healthy immunity garlic, onions, leeks
Glucosinolates (including sulphoraphane) may reduce the risk of cancer cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and turnips)
Lignans a type of phytoestrogen which may decrease cancer risk flaxseed and grains such as wheat, oats, and barley. *note that flaxseed needs to be ground and that most flaxseed oil does not contain lignans or dietary fiber
Phytosterols may help reduce lipid levels found in all plant foods, with the highest concentration found in plant oils
Saponins may reduce risk of developing cancer and reduce lipid levels found in soy foods and various legumes
Mind you, these phytonutrients are not magic bullets. You still need to safeguard your health by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and taking other precautions (wearing sunscreen, not smoking, etc.). But if the thought of a little extra protection against heart disease and cancer motivates you to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, then your health can only benefit!

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