Health Benefits Of Fruits And Vegetables
Vegetables ( greens and others ) and fresh fruits are rich sources of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals and of complex carbohydrates/ fiber. They contain an abundant amount of iron, vitamin C, folic acid, carotenoids ( precursors of vitamin A )and phytochemicals. Though most Indians are vegetarians in practice, daily intake of vegetables is very low ( <150 g).
What are the major micronutrients in vegetables/fruits?
This fat-soluble vitamin is necessary for clear vision in dim light, and for maintaining the integrity of epithelial tissues. In vitamin, A deficiency, the white of the eye loses its luster and becomes dry. In severe vitamin A deficiency, the black of the eye ( cornea ) enlarges, leading to irreversible blindness in young children. Vitamin A also has a role in maintaining resistance of the body to common infections. Carotenoids are plentiful in fruits and vegetables that are green or deep yellow/orange in color, such as green leafy vegetables, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, papaya, mango etc.
Iron is an essential element necessary for the formation of hemoglobin, the red pigment present in the red cells of the blood. Haemoglobin plays an important role in the transport of oxygen to the tissues. Reduction in hemoglobin in the blood leads to anemia, a condition characterized by paleness and easy fatigue and increased susceptibility to infections. Iron is available in plenty with green leafy vegetables. But the absorption of iron is limited. Vitamin C rich foods must be consumed daily to improve iron absorption.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient required for healthy bones and teeth. It also promotes iron absorption. Vitamin C deficiency is characterized by weakness, bleeding gums, and defective bone growth. Vitamin C is abundantly available in fresh amla, citrus fruits, guava, banana and in certain vegetables such as tomatoes. These citrus fruits are healthy and useful for skin also.
Folic acid is a hemopoietic vitamin essential for multiplication and maturation of red cells. Its deficiency leads to megaloblastic anemias. Folic acid intake during pregnancy protects the fetus from developing certain congenital defects. It also promotes the birth weight of infants. Folic acid deficiency increases homocysteine.Green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, and liver are good sources of folates.
Non-nutritional factors in vegetables and fruits
Vegetables also provide certain non-nutritional factors of considerable health significance to the human body. Among these, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and other bio-active constituents require special mention. These non-nutritional factors are required for delaying aging and preventing the processes which lead to diseases such as cataract development, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.
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Dietary fiber delays the intestinal transit of the food consumed. Dietary fiber is important for proper bowel function and to reduce chronic constipation, diverticular disease, and hemorrhoids. The protective role of dietary fiber against colon cancer has long been recognized.
In the recent past, the role of vegetables and fruits as sources of antioxidants has been receiving considerable attention. Antioxidants restrict the damage that reactive oxygen free radicals can cause the cell and cellular components. They are of primary biological value in giving protection from certain diseases. Some of the diseases that have their origin in deleterious free radical reactions are cancer, inflammatory joint diseases, asthma, diabetes etc. Raw and fresh vegetables like green leafy vegetables, carrots, fresh fruits including citrus and tomato have been identified as good sources of antioxidants.The nutrients vitamin C and carotenoids that are present in these vegetables are also potent antioxidants.
How much should we consume?
The expert committee of the Indian Council of Medical Research, taking into consideration the nutrient requirements, has recommended that every individual should consume at least 150g of vegetables in a day. In addition, fresh fruits, as available in different seasons, should be consumed regularly. However, for prevention of chronic diseases, the adults should consume a minimum of 300 g of vegetables and 100 of fruits.
How to prevent cooking losses?
Vitamins are lost during washing of cut vegetables and cooking of foodstuffs. However, proper methods of cooking can substantially reduce these losses. Nutrient losses occur when the vegetables are washed after cutting it into small pieces for cooking. Consumption of property washed raw and fresh vegetables is always beneficial.
How do we get these foods?
Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, and fruits are easily available. Most vegetables, particularly GLV, are inexpensive. In fact, these foods can be grown in the backyard with very little effort and cost. Even in lean seasons, like summer, they can be grown using household waste water.
- Include green leafy vegetables in daily diet.
- Eat as much of vegetables as possible daily.
- Consume raw and fresh vegetables as salads.
- Grow the family’s requirements of vegetables in a kitchen garden.
- Green leafy vegetables, when properly cleaned and cooked, are safe even for infants.
Eat Vitamin A Rich Foods
- Vitamin A is needed for normal vision.
- Vitamin A deficiency leads to night blindness and changes in eyes.
- Severe vitamin A deficiency leads to blindness in young children.
- Childhood infections like diarrhea, measles and respiratory infections and parasitic infestations reduce absorption of Vitamin A through the gut.
- Milk, eggs, liver, and meat are good sources of pre-formed vitamin A.
- Vitamin A can also be obtained from foods of plant origin in the form of beta-carotene.
- Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body.
- Green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange vegetables and fruits are rich sources of beta-carotene.
- Examples of carotene-rich foods are green leafy vegetables such as drum-stick leaves, amaranth, methi, palak, and fruits like carrot, yellow pumpkin, mango, and papaya.
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The importance of fiber
An intake of 25gm or 40 gm dietary fiber per day from a variety of food sources is desirable. Do not confuse ‘fiber’ for that part of sugar cane or apple which gets stuck in your mouth. The name is misleading. In fact, most fruits being high in water content have a low percentage of fiber.
Fibre is what gives body and substance to plants. It is present in the outer layer of seeds, fruits, and vegetables and is a mixture of indigestible matter such as cellulose, lignin, pectin, and gums. Fibre adds substance to our food and remains intact even when it reaches the small intestines. In the large intestines, it is acted upon by beneficial bacteria which produce an emulsification of fiber, thus making stool soft and enabled it to be propelled along easily without any painful intestinal spasms. This is how it comes to use for diabetics and very useful for weight loss.
- It provides a physical barrier which protects carbohydrates from the digestive effect of enzymes. Thus fewer calories are consumed. Fats are swept away by the locomotive effect of fiber. Certain types of dietary fiber also tend to absorb harmful fatty acids.
- By pushing the partially-digested food through the intestines, fiber decreases the transit time of foods, thereby reducing the rate of intestinal absorption.
- Fibre also reduces glucose and somatostatin secretion. It is also associated with improved peripherals insulin action by increasing insulin receptor binding. This way the oral drug or insulin requirements are considerably reduced.