Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.
The newly released Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015 highlight vegetarian diets as a healthy option to follow. A central part of any balanced vegetarian diet is its emphasis on eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, rich in vitamins and minerals and health-promoting phytochemicals.
A recent British study revealed that adults consuming daily 7 or more portions of fruit and vegetables had 31% decrease in cardiovascular mortality, a 25% decrease in cancer mortality, and a 33% decrease in all-cause of mortality compared with those consuming less than one portion a day. A greater intake of green leafy vegetables, but not fruits, was associated with a 14% reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes.
Other European studies have shown that a generous intake of fruit and vegetables is associated with a 30-40% lower risk of breast and prostate cancer, and 30% less strokes.
Consuming fruits and non-starchy vegetables can help stop middle-age weight gain. The weight-control benefits were observed to be greater for fruit than for vegetables. The produce with the most marked protective effect were firstly blueberries, and then strawberries, apples, pears, grapes, plums, citrus, leafy green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables (such broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts). These fruits are rich in bioactive compounds with known anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The foods were rich in dietary fiber and had a lower glycemic load which produces an increased satiety. On the other hand, consuming starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes (either boiled or baked) were associated with weight gain.
Furthermore, researchers have found that women who kept fresh fruit on the counter were more likely to be normal weight while women with easy access to chips, sodas, and sweet snacks were significantly more likely to be obese or overweight.
A less commonly used fruit that adds color to your diet is the Chinese gooseberry or kiwi. A cup of sliced kiwi has more vitamin C than 2 oranges and is rich in potassium. In addition, kiwi contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which help protect against age-related macular degeneration.
Volunteers who ate 2-3 kiwifruit a day for 4 weeks showed an 18% decrease in risk of blood clots and a 15% decrease in blood triglyceride levels. Patients with borderline hypertension who were given 3 kiwi fruit a day for 8 weeks showed drops in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (3.6 and 1.9 mm, respectively). A kiwi extract has also shown to be beneficial for preventing human cancer growth.
Numerous studies have revealed that kiwifruit consumption may improve sleep onset, duration, and efficiency in adults with self-reported sleep disturbances. When 24 subjects consumed 2 kiwifruits one hour before bedtime nightly for 4 weeks the quality of their sleep, the waking time after sleep onset, and sleep onset latency were significantly decreased by 30-40%, while total sleep time and sleep efficiency were significantly increased.
A less commonly used cruciferous vegetable that adds real zest to your diet is the radish. The peppery flavor of radish comes from the isothiocyanates while the red or purple skin contains anthocyanins. Both of these pigments provide cancer-fighting benefits.