How to eat the right amount and right kinds of fruits and veggies
During summertime, the produce bins at your local farmer’s market are most likely overflowing with a wide variety of colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables just waiting to be sliced and diced and put onto the backyard barbecue or added to your summer salad.
Simply walking among the bushels and baskets of such beautiful, vibrant food can make you feel healthier already. But it’s not quite that easy. You actually have to eat the right amount—and the right kinds—of fruits and vegetables every day in order to reap their powerful health-boosting benefits. And as studies have shown, these days hardly anyone in this country gets the recommended five servings a day.
A recent study involving 3,148 children, between ages two and 18, found that the younger children averaged about one serving of fruit a day. Teenagers fared even worse, averaging only about half a serving of fruit per day. Both groups averaged from 0.1 to 0.3 servings daily of dark green or yellow vegetables. The people at McDonald’s should be thrilled to learn that French fries accounted for 25 percent of the vegetable consumption. Only seven percent of the entire group consumed at least three vegetables and two fruit servings. If this trend continues, I certainly wouldn’t expect to see the cost of health care decrease in this country for the next 50 years.
American adults aren’t doing much better. They average about 1.2 servings of fruit each day and 3.1 servings of vegetables. Bananas and white potatoes are the number-one fruit and vegetable, with dark-green and yellow vegetables at the bottom of the list. While bananas and potatoes are both good foods, they are also both very low in carotenoids and flavonoids (two compounds that are proving to be essential for preventing the most common age-related problems of our time: cardiovascular disease, cancer, and macular degeneration).
In one study involving 1,300 elderly people, those with the highest intakes of dark-green and yellow vegetables were half as likely to die from heart disease five years later and one-third as likely to succumb to cancer as those who had the lowest intakes. Based on these findings, researchers at the USDA Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland recently found a simple and easy method you can use to lower your risk of these different diseases.
By analyzing hundreds of different vegetables, they found that daily consumption of three particular vegetables could dramatically change carotene tissue levels. Kale was selected for its high lutein content. The powerful carotenoid lutein is instrumental in preventing macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in our elderly. Tomato juice was also selected due to its lycopene, which is a potent antioxidant that can help prevent both heart disease and certain forms of cancer, particularly prostate cancer. Finally, they chose the sweet potato for its beta-carotene content. Beta-carotene can help prevent heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, and a number of different types of cancer.
Participants in the study were given a little less than 5 oz. of steamed kale, about 5.5 oz. of mashed sweet potatoes, and 6 to 8 oz. of tomato juice for lunch each day. In just three weeks, blood plasma levels of beta-carotene increased 116 percent, lutein levels jumped 67 percent, and lycopene levels rose 26 percent. The increases in tissue levels of these carotenes were even more dramatic. Lycopene tissue levels increased 100 percent and beta carotene levels rose 4,000 percent. Additionally, significant improvements in the participants’ immune systems were noted as T-cell counts increased by one-third.
Each of these three vegetables proved to be exceptionally powerful in antioxidant activity. Kale seemed to be the king. Further testing showed that a mere 3.5 oz. of kale disarmed as many free radicals as 837 IU of vitamin E or 599 mg.of vitamin C. Kale was twice as potent as beets and broccoli florets, eight to nine times more potent than carrots and string beans, and 29 to 35 times more potent than celery or cucumbers. (Garlic was stronger than kale on a weight to weight basis, but I don’t know of anyone who can consume 3.5 oz. of garlic a day. I’m not sure I would want to know them!)
When fruits and juices were tested for antioxidant strength, blueberries, strawberries, and Concord grape juice showed the highest activity. A 3.5 oz. serving of blueberries had the same antioxidant activity as 1,773 IU of vitamin E or 1,270 mg of vitamin C. Strawberries were about half as potent as blueberries.
Making just a few vegetable and fruit additions to your diet is without a doubt one of the simplest yet best things you can do to improve your overall health. It couldn’t get much easier or less expensive. To get started all you need to do is start drinking 6 to 8 oz. of tomato juice a day, add a helping of steamed kale as a vegetable, and substitute sweet potatoes for white. Add a nice serving of blueberries or other fruit for dessert and you’ve made the change and boosted your protection against a whole array of common age-related diseases.