A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is your best bet for preventing virtually every chronic disease. This fact has been established time and again by scientific studies on large numbers of people. The evidence in support of this recommendation is so strong that it has been endorsed by the US government health agencies and by almost every major medical organization, including the American Cancer Society.
The term rainbow means simply selecting fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors, including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Doing so gives your body the full spectrum of pigments with powerful antioxidant effects, as well as the nutrients it needs for optimal function and protection against disease.
Fruits and vegetables are so important in the battle against cancer that some experts have said that cancer is a result of a “maladaptation” over time to a reduced level of intake of fruits and vegetables. As a study published in the medical journal Cancer Causes and Control put it, “Vegetables and fruits contain the anticarcinogenic cocktail to which we are adapted. We abandon it at our peril.”
A vast number of substances found in fruits and vegetables are known to protect against cancer. Some experts refer to these as “chemo-preventers,” but they are better known as phytochemicals. Phytochemicals include pigments such as carotenes, chlorophyll, and flavonoids; dietary fiber; enzymes; vitaminlike compounds; and other minor dietary constituents. Although phytochemicals work in harmony with antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium, phytochemicals exert considerably greater protection against cancer than these simple nutrients.
Easy Tips for Reaching 10 Servings a Day of Fruits and Vegetables
- Buy many kinds of fruits and vegetables when you shop, so you have plenty of choices in the house.
- Stock up on frozen vegetables for easy cooking so that you can have a vegetable dish with every dinner. You can easily steam frozen vegetables.
- Use the fruits and vegetables that go bad quickly, such as peaches and asparagus, first. Save hardier varieties such as apples, acorn squash, and frozen goods, for later use if you do not shop frequently in a week.
- Keep fruits and vegetables where you can see them. The more often you see them, the more likely you are to eat them.
- Keep a bowl of cut-up vegetables on the top shelf of the refrigerator.
- Make a big tossed salad with several kinds of greens, cherry tomatoes, cut-up carrots, red pepper, broccoli, scallions, and sprouts. Refrigerate in a large glass bowl with an airtight lid, so a delicious mixed salad will be ready to enjoy for several days.
- Keep a fruit bowl on your kitchen counter, table, or desk at work.
- Pack a piece of fruit or some cut-up vegetables in your briefcase or backpack and carry moist towelettes for easy cleanup.
- Add fruits and vegetables to lunch by having them in soup, in salad, or cut up raw.
- Increase portions when you serve vegetables. One easy way of doing so is adding fresh greens, such as Swiss chard, collards, or beet greens, to stir-fries.
- Add extra varieties of vegetables when you prepare soups, sauces, and casseroles. For example, add grated carrots and zucchini to spaghetti sauce.
- Take advantage of salad bars, which offer ready-to-eat raw vegetables and fruits, as well as prepared salads made with fruits and vegetables.
- Use vegetable-based sauces such as marinara sauce and juices such as low-sodium V8 or tomato juice.
- Choose fresh fruit for dessert. For a special dessert, try a fruit parfait with low-fat yogurt or sherbet topped with lots of berries.
- Freeze blueberries. They make a great summer replacement for ice cream, popsicles, and other sugary foods.
Bottom line: It’s not hard to transform your plate of food from beige to multicolored. Variety, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, not only makes eating more enjoyable, it’s also necessary for optimal health.
Dr. Michael Murray