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Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Health Benefits of 5 A Day

What is so important about 5 fruits and vegetables a day?  Why do we even need to care about fruits and vegetables?  In the same report about fruits and vegetables, CDC notes, “Fruits and vegetables are important for optimal child growth, weight management, and chronic disease prevention.1,2”      Research after research study has cited the importance of an adequate intake of fruits and vegetables.  For one, fruits and vegetables provide many nutrients such as the vitamins and minerals we need and they are an important source of fiber in our diet.   Fruits provide vitamin A, C, folate as well as potassium and fiber.  Vegetables are also an important source of vitamin A and C, as well as vitamin K, E and the minerals potassium, magnesium, and fiber.   Additionally, fruits and vegetables aid in disease prevention by providing numerous phytochemicals.   What are phytochemicals?   Phytochemicals are not nutrients but they do have biological activity in the body.  Some of the phytochemicals appear to help our bodies defend against cancer.  Legumes, flaxseeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables provide such phytochemicals.  Another important phytochemical is lutein, which appears to help eye function.  Lutein can be found in fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene such as carrots and sweet potatoes.  Moreover, a diet rich in the carotenoid family including beta-carotene and lutein are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.  Lycopene is a phytochemical responsible for the pink/red color in apricots, pink grapefruit, watermelon and tomatoes.  Why lycopene?  Research indicates it is an antioxidant and may inhibit cancer cell growth.  Thus, fruits and vegetables not only deliver important vitamins and minerals, they also provide us thousands of different phytochemicals.   Research is continuing on the many roles these phytochemicals play in disease prevention and overall health.  But enough research has been done to demonstrate how very important fruits and vegetables are in one’s diet, not just for the important nutrients they provide but also for the phytochemicals they contain. 

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