The role of Fruits and Vegetables in a healthy diet
The important role of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet cannot be overlooked. Not only do they add a wide variety of flavour and colour to our meals, they add a wide range and significant quantity of nutrients too.
Firstly, the fibre and water content alone of fruits and vegetables, makes them significant in the prevention of constipation and the promotion of gut health. Fibre also promotes stable blood glucose levels and sustained energy. In addition to this benefit, adding a heap of vegetables to a meal aids in good portion control of protein and starches. The fibre content of fruits and vegetables also promotes satiety and appetite control.
In addition to much needed fibre, fruits and vegetables supply a large number of vitamins and minerals for maintenance and optimal functioning of the body. There are many vitamins and minerals but taking a quick look at a few of them will be enough to convince you of the importance of including fruits and vegetables daily.
This mineral is a very important electrolyte for the health of the body, including the health of our heart and other muscles. Potassium is essential to the functioning of the heart and the regulation of blood pressure. The role of potassium in the contraction of the smooth muscle also makes it an important nutrient in normal digestive functioning.
Fruits such as bananas, citrus fruits, guavas, grapes, peaches, mango and watermelon are good sources of potassium while vegetables rich in potassium include butternut, gem squash, mushrooms, baby spinach, beetroot, cauliflower and green beans.
Also known as Vitamin B9, folate is essential to the manufacturing process of new blood cells and our DNA. Folate’s important role in minimising changes in the DNA is a cancer protecting function. Folate is especially important during pregnancy and other periods of rapid growth such as adolescence.
This important nutrient is available in dark green leafy vegetables in addition to legumes which are also an excellent inclusion for a healthy diet. Oranges, berries, pineapple, beetroot, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, corn and parsley also offer folate in high quantities.
Vitamin C is often valued for its immune boosting properties when the cold and flu season arrives. The truth is that a regular and consistent intake of vitamin C is more protective than taking mega doses when you are already sick. Vitamin C has a major role to play in the synthesis and maintenance of blood vessels, cartilage and scar tissue, all important structural features in the body.
Including vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables also aids in the prevention of iron deficiency anaemia as it promotes the absorption of iron from the digestive system. Iron deficiency anaemia has a negative impact on brain development in young school going children. A lack of haemoglobin (an oxygen carrying protein made with iron) in the blood is also responsible for many a woman’s excessive fatigue.
Oranges, while a good and economical source of vitamin C in winter, are not the only source of vitamin C. Other sources include bell peppers, guavas, kiwis, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli and kale.
Orange fruits and vegetables, such as mangoes, paw paw, butternut, pumpkin and carrots are rich in vitamin A which is essential for eye health and the maintenance of good eye sight. Not to be skipped, these fruits and vegetables are easy to come by and add brilliant colour to any dish.
Green leafy vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin K which has a significant role to play in healthy blood clotting for wound healing and tissue repair.
The importance of including a variety of fruits and vegetables as daily menu items is clear from the nutrient benefits achieved on consumption. As an added bonus, fruits and vegetables are low in energy and make for very convenient, nutrient dense snacks and lunch box fillers, while adding texture and colour to family meals.
A daily intake of fruits and vegetables, at least 5 portions in total, is protective against chronic disease and should start as soon as solids are introduced in early life. At the end of the day, a rainbow shining through our food intake, will let us know we have it right.