By Nan Allison Nutrition Consulting
Did you know that adding just a big fistful (about 5 oz. of vegetables or a little over ½ a cup of cooked vegetable, or about the weight of a large tomato) increase more than just your nutrient intake? It just might increase your sense of well-being and keep you looking younger longer, not to mention feeling younger. Fruit and vegetable consumption has been found to predict well-being, curiosity, and creativity in adults in the workplace and also in young adults.
One of the best benefits to come out of researching the nutrients in fruits and vegetables is the discovery of phytochemicals (also known as antioxidants). These help plants by protecting their cells, inside and outside, from environmental damage. This means they can help your skin and body age less quickly and be less susceptible to chronic disease like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Phytochemicals also give plant foods their color, smell, and taste. There are several types (up to 4,000!) and each benefit your body in different ways; for example, phytochemicals are linked to prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. One type of phytochemical, antioxidants, have the ability to fight and remove dangerous, very reactive compounds in our body called free radicals. Free radical damage is linked to cancer and atherosclerosis.
The ANDI score measures vitamin, mineral, phytochemical, and antioxidant capacity. To find out which fruits and vegetables pack the most in, check out the ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index). The highest scoring vegetables are mustard/turnip/collard greens, kale, watercress, spinach, radishes, and bean sprouts. The highest scoring fruits are strawberries, blackberries, plums, raspberries, and blueberries.
Of course eating your daily dose of fruits and vegetables is a great way for your body to get all of those other tiny nutrients: vitamins, minerals, and a big one: fiber. Fiber feeds healthy bacteria and the bacteria help with healthy digestion.
How to buy
When choosing produce at the grocery store, some important factors to consider are
What’s in season?
An easy way to save money on fruits and vegetables is to buy what’s in season! In order for grocery stores to get fruits and vegetables that aren’t in season, it requires expenses for shipping and travel, and the consumer ends up paying that cost. The longer it takes for your fresh food to travel to you, the more nutrients it loses. Produce that has traveled a long way or isn’t in season will also have a shorter shelf-life.
Another way to save money on fruits and vegetables is to shop at a local farmer’s market. In general, prices are lower there than at a supermarket. You also get the added benefit of supporting the local market. If you’re feeling ambitious, growing fruits and vegetables in your own garden can be a money-saver as well.
If time and storage is limited – and fresh is too hard to come by – don’t snub the freezer for fruits and vegetables. Some of the best bargains can be found in fresh frozen produce. For instance, a 10 oz. (2 servings) bag of broccoli costs about $1.20, but the same amount fresh might cost $3. Buying frozen can also help reduce waste, which in the end helps you save money!
Wondering about organic? Concerned about pesticides?
Pesticide use and buying organic has been a hot topic lately, and with all this information flying around many people are confused about what to buy. Pesticide residue is the amount of chemicals that remain on the skin/outer layer of produce after it’s grown and processed. This amount is tested and regulated by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, and it cannot exceed a “pesticide tolerance level” that poses a risk to the consumer.
The “Dirty Dozen” is a list of the top 12 fruits and vegetables that have the highest amount of pesticide residue within what is deemed “tolerable.” They are apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, and potatoes. Produce that generally have the least amount of pesticide residue includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, onions, asparagus, mangos, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes. Organic produce is grown and processed without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
How much? And how to get more.
The daily-recommended dose of fruits and veggies ranges from 5 servings to 10 servings. Ten servings at 4 oz. each ends up being around 1 ¼ to 2 ½ pounds! Try adding a few more vegetables into dishes like casseroles, pasta sauce, or putting spinach in your morning smoothie. To boost fruit intake, add it to cereals, eat fruit for dessert, or buy frozen fruit to add to yogurt or frozen desserts. For more ideas, try our suggested menu below.
Omelet with spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and feta cheese
(Consider adding frozen chopped bell peppers and frozen chopped onions—they are
already chopped for you –just grab them from the grocery freezer on your next trip)
Toast with peanut butter or plain
Carrots and peppers with hummus. Or think about having some sweet and crunchy Sugar Snap Peas – they are like candy!
Summer Salad: Spinach, goat cheese, sliced strawberries, sliced cucumber, honey roasted almonds, sliced red onion, and grilled chicken.
Whole grain roll
1-cup low-fat plain yogurt with 1-cup blueberries and a dash of honey and vanilla.
(Fruit flavored yogurts have about 1 tbsp. of fruit in them)
Br J Health Psychol. 2015 May;20(2):413-27. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12113. Epub 2014 Jul 30.
Allison Nutrition Consulting is a 24 year-old nutrition firm of registered dietitians who use evidenced-based traditional and complementary/alternative nutrition therapy and healing practices.