As children, most of us can remember sitting down to dinner with a side of greens and being told that eating them would make us big and strong. Who can’t remember being told that eating carrots would help us to see in the dark?
Children tend to have a love-hate relationship when it comes to eating fruit and vegetables and the sweeter the fruit or neutral tasting the vegetable, the easier it is for them to consider eating them. But, as our taste buds begin to mature, so do our love for all kinds of foods the earth has to offer.
As adults, we start to enjoy the different tastes and variety that these natural foods provide as well as understand the importance of eating them. As with many things, we realise our parents were right all along. Fruit and veggies are the building block to a healthy diet.
The Eatwell Guide has a huge section dedicated to these natural foods. The remnants of the government’s Five-a-day campaign launched back in 2003 is still seen today.
Find out about the five food groups here.
The push to consume more fruit and vegetables is a worthy one. These natural foods provide us with so many vitamins and minerals that help our bodies thrive. They are pivotal to our health and our body’s organs and processes.
There are so many wonderful variations of fruit and vegetables. It is hard to pinpoint all the nutrients they contain, and how they can protect, heal and maintain our bodies.
To provide one example, did you know that a kiwifruit contains more vitamins C than an orange? They also contain vitamins E and K.
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid has so many benefits for the body including the growth, repair and development of tissue. It is also an antioxidant (an antioxidant removes potentially harmful oxidising agents from an organism) helping to prevent many illnesses; helps to absorb iron; forms collagen; aids wound healing, and much more.
Vitamin E protects our bodies from cell damage as well as being a powerful antioxidant. Therefore, this vitamin can help to delay the ageing process of our skin.
Finally, vitamin K is very important for bone and heart health; it helps our blood to clot and prevents calcium from being deposited in our arteries.
These are just a few examples of the vitamins one fruit contains. The benefits of making fruit a significant part of our diet are huge! Do not underestimate the power of the right foods on our bodies. Nourishment is key.
The amount of vitamins and minerals contained in fruit alone seems endless. There is a reason why we need to consume natural foods, produced by the earth; these foods cannot only sustain us but also heal and protect the body.
We are now able to consume more variety of fruit than ever before. There is an abundance of choice at our local supermarket from oranges, bananas and apples to passion fruit and mangos; we can make the most of all the benefits fruit can provide.
Another great, nutritious example is the banana: a fruit that has become a staple in so many people’s diets, even babies love them! What are the benefits of eating this yellow food?
Bananas are not just a great source of carbohydrate and fibre; they also contain the minerals, potassium and B6. Potassium allows the body to regulate water and acid in both the blood and tissues. It is also great to build muscle, keep nerves working correctly and help our kidneys to filter blood.
B6 is a mood regulator, helping the body to produce two hormones called serotonin and norepinephrine both helping to prevent depression and cope with stress. If that wasn’t enough, it also helps our bodies to create melatonin, a hormone to boost a healthy internal clock and sleep patterns.
Comparing bananas with passion fruit, the benefits are different yet again. Passionfruit is a great source of vitamin B3 (niacin) and iron. Vitamin B3 can boost brain and digestive functions as well as help to lower cholesterol and the pain of arthritis.
It very easy to have a colourful fruit bowl and consume many different fruits on a daily basis. Fruit can help us in so many different and natural ways.
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Moving onto vegetables now and, like fruit, there is a multitude of them to choose from. A good way to separate vegetables is by their colour and leaves.
Green vegetables for example, especially the leafy ones, such as kale, broccoli and spinach are rich in vitamins C, K and E similar to kiwis but they are also high in calcium, B vitamins and antioxidants.
Another great example is orange and yellow vegetables as these tend to be full of vitamins and minerals. Vegetables including corn, sweet potato, peppers and carrots are high in vitamin A (great for eye health and the maintenance of teeth, bone and tissue), potassium, zeaxanthin (prevents retina damage) and flavonoids (brain protection).
Carrots are considered the best source of beta-carotene found in vitamin A so they really do help us see in the dark! A raw carrot makes a perfect snack or why not add one to a smoothie. Just a few alternative ways to get the daily intake of nutrients if having them cooked with evening meals is not your thing.
Butternut squash is also a great source of these vitamins and minerals and an ideal ingredient in soup, especially during the winter months.
The colour red also reveals a lot about the nutritional contents. Tomatoes (although technically a fruit) are a great example. Just one tomato contains high quantities of lycopene, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which is great for our skin, helping to prevent clogged pores and breakouts as well as reducing blood pressure.
The Best Way to Consume Fruit and Vegetables
Eating more fruit and vegetables is great for the body but going one step further is to understand the best time and form of these natural foods that will have the most benefit for your health.
Fruit is best consumed in the morning, preferably after a drink of water and throughout the day 30 minutes before a meal and 2 hours after. This seemingly strict period to eat fruit is because, at any other times, the nutrients may not be absorbed properly.
There is no problem, however, in mixing yoghurt or cereal with fruit. It is also important to eat fruit as quickly as possible once cut to prevent losing vital antioxidants and fresh and frozen fruit is better than tinned.
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The same goes for vegetables. Frozen vegetables still provide plenty of nutrients but if they are chopped before freezing, they will always contain fewer nutrients. With vegetables, it is best to avoid boiling them as most as the nutrition ends up in the water rather than the vegetable. The best way to cook vegetables is to steam them but roasting is another option especially Mediterranean vegetables.
Interestingly, some vegetables are, in fact, better cooked. These include the red coloured vegetables previously mentioned, containing the antioxidant, Lycopene. The cooking process breaks down the cell walls producing more of the mineral.
Generally, placing fruit and vegetables at the heart of our diets is a step to becoming happier, healthier people.
The benefits described by eating these types of fruits and vegetables is not an exhaustive list. Each piece of fruit or portion of vegetables can contain other benefits aside from the ones mentioned. It really is remarkable the amount of natural goodness and remedies these natural foods provide.
Although we have plenty of choices when it comes to fruit and vegetables, it is a good idea to buy local, seasonal produce. In doing this, we can support local, farming markets, avoid plastic packaging and reduce the food’s mileage. This is not to say, we should stop eating fruit and vegetables that have come from outside of the UK but be mindful about where produce can be purchased if there are choices in the area.
Another option available to us is growing them ourselves. Not all of us are lucky enough to have a garden or an allotment close enough, especially those that live in the city but if this option is possible, growing fresh fruit and vegetables can be a hugely beneficial and a rewarding experience.
Understanding what natural foods need in order to grow and provide for us is something that we often lack in the modern world we live in but it can be liberating, helping us to save money, reduce our carbon footprint and make us less reliant on over packaged food.
Read about proteins in diet here.
Find out about fats in diet here.
Discover more about dairy's role in our diet here.