Vegetables and Fruits

Vegetables are important part of healthy eating and provide a source of many nutrients, including potassium, fiber, folate (folic acid) and vitamins A, E and C. Options like broccoli, spinach, tomatoes and garlic provide additional benefits, making them a superfood! Potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Dietary fiber from vegetables helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease.

Folate (folic acid) helps the body form healthy red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and those in the first trimester of pregnancy need adequate folate to reduce the risk of neural tube defects and spina bifida during fetal development. Eating a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables has been linked to improved health, and for good reason. Veggies and fruits (both fresh and frozen) are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, which have been shown to protect against chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. They are also low in calories, making them a great choice for your waistline. Choosing a colorful assortment vegetables is best, as different benefits exist in the different color spectrum. The orange pigment found in carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes, for example, contain the antioxidant beta-carotene. The deep red pigment found in tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene, which is linked with prostate health.

And for some great news, here are two food groups where you can eat a large portion and not have to worry about weight gain. (Just watch your portion of starchy veggies such as corn and potatoes.) While all fruits and vegetables are healthy, below are several pointers on some nutrition powerhouses.

Vegetables

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, and part of the Brassica family, which also includes kale, collards, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and cauliflower. Members of the Brassica family are rich in phytochemicals, known to have antioxidant properties. Broccoli is a true nutrition powerhouse: It is chock full of vitamin C, the mineral calcium, fiber, and vitamin A. It is also rich in sulforaphane, a health-promoting compound that can fight cancer.

Carrots are a good source of fiber, which helps to maintain bowel health, lower blood cholesterol, and aid in weight maintenance. The orange pigment found in carrots are due to the antioxidant beta-carotene, also found in other deep orange foods such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, papaya, and cantaloupe. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and helps to maintain healthy eyes, support your immune system, keep your skin healthy, and protect against certain cancers.

Spinach is available year-round in grocery stores around the country, offering a readily-available source of many vitamins and minerals. Spinach contains the minerals iron and potassium, as well as vitamins A, K, C, and the B-vitamin folate. Spinach also contains phytochemicals that may boost your immune system and flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that may be preventative against certain cancers.

Sweet Potatoes are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene and are also full of fiber, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, and the mineral potassium. They are especially nutritious when eaten with the skin on, and contrary to a popular dieting myth, they are not fattening!

Beets contain healthy doses of iron, the B-vitamin folate, and fiber. Red beets offer betacyanin, a plant pigment which may protect against colon cancer.

Fruits

Fruits contain mostly sugars and fibers, such as pectin, that are extensively fermented in the large intestine. Certain fruits, especially apples and pears, are concentrated in fructose. Fruits are also recommended as a source of vitamin C and potassium. Traditionally, fruits, as foodstuffs were available for a limited time and, when ripe, were sometimes difficult to collect and transport. When ripe, they have a short period of acceptability before senescence intervenes. Thus, many fruits consumed in today’s world are processed, frozen, canned, or dried.

Cantaloupe. This member of the melon family is rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, a plant-based vitamin A precursor that helps with eye health, among other conditions. It is also rich in the mineral potassium, which may help lower blood pressure and the risk for stroke. And, it is terrific if you are watching your waist — a one-cup serving contains a mere 50 calories.

Watermelon, which is especially terrific this time of year, offers a juicy, sweet taste and a high water content, while packing in the antioxidants lycopene, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, and the minerals potassium and magnesium.

Citrus fruits, including oranges and grapefruits, provide a significant source of vitamin C, folate, and potassium, as well as fiber. Pink grapefruits are particularly rich in the antioxidant lycopene. Eating these fruits whole yields more nutrients than drinking the juice.

Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which may help raise levels of HDL (good cholesterol) while lowering LDL (bad cholesterol). They are also high in the antioxidant vitamin E.

Grapes. Consuming grapes may reduce the risk of blood clots, lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and prevent damage to the heart’s blood vessels, aiding in the maintenance of healthy blood pressure. Antioxidants called flavonoids may even increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind). The resveratrol found in the skins of red grapes may interfere with cancer development. Eating the whole fruit instead of consuming the juice contains the added benefit of fiber.

Kiwifruit, with its brilliant green inside, is packed with vitamin C and fiber.

Healthy Tips:

It is best to eat your fruits and vegetables from whole foods. Popping a pill — such as taking a beta-carotene supplement — does not do the trick. Fresh and frozen vegetables offer a combination of many health benefits that you will not find in a pill.

Nutrients

Food sources of the nutrients in bold can be found in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Click on the nutrient name to link to the food sources table.

  • Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories. None have cholesterol. (Sauces or seasonings may add fat, calories, or cholesterol.)
  • Potassium rich nutrientsVegetables are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin C.
  • Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Vegetable sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white beans, tomato products (paste, sauce, and juice), beet greens, soybeans, lima beans, winter squash, spinach, lentils, kidney beans, and split peas.
  • Dietary fiber from vegetables, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods such as vegetables help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.
  • Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and those in the first trimester of pregnancy should consume adequate folate, including folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development.
  • Vitamin A keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections.
  • Vitamin E helps protect vitamin A and essential fatty acids from cell oxidation.
  • Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. Vitamin C aids in iron absorption.