National Nutrition Month is an annual campaign sponsored by The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, with a vision of a world where all people thrive through the transformative power of food and proper nutrition.
Many people seek the assistance of a dietitian in achieving their personal health or fitness goals. A registered dietitian (RD) is a nutrition expert and is most qualified to help you navigate the many individualized aspects of nutrition. Even with the guidance of an RD, it can be daunting to make lifestyle changes in pursuit of nutrition goals, and results can sometimes be slow to manifest in visible ways. However, anyone trying to improve their health should celebrate even incremental progress, especially in the early goings, and feel empowered to keep making small, sustainable changes to their diet.
One simple goal is to eat more fruits and vegetables. According to the 2018 CDC State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, only 12.2% of adults in America meet the daily fruit intake recommendation (1.5-2 cups per day) and only 9.3% of adults in America meet the daily vegetable intake recommendation (2-3 cups per day). Even something as simple as changing your diet to meet those recommendations can result in a cascade of health benefits.
What makes fruits and vegetables so beneficial? They are high in water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Your body needs these components to function at its best, from being able to contract the small muscles that move your eyes across this page to maintaining optimal digestive health. Let’s take a closer look at how each of these important compounds play a role in your overall health.
Fruits and vegetables range from 75-93% water, making them the most hydrating foods you can eat. Water is essential in your body for the transfer of nutrients in and out of cells. Being well hydrated protects you from having a high solute load, which can cause tachycardia, dry skin, headache, fatigue, and increased strain on the kidneys.
Fruits and vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel that slows food as it moves through your digestive tract. This gives food extra time to be broken down by digestive enzymes and for nutrients to be absorbed, and keeps you feeling full longer. Soluble fiber also binds to cholesterol in the intestines and removes them from the body, regulates blood sugar by slowing the release of glucose from your food, and makes it easier to pass stool by adding bulk to it. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water but does help keep you feeling full longer and adds bulk to stool. Adequate fiber in your diet can help to prevent diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and diseases of the intestines such as constipation, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, and other forms of inflammation.
Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins A and C, as well as some B vitamins. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that contributes to the health of your skin and vision. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is essential to the formation of collagen, aids in wound healing, and helps the body absorb iron. B vitamins assist your body in performing numerous metabolic processes. By consuming enough of these vitamins, you give your body the tools it needs to utilize energy, fight infection and disease, and maintain overall health.
Fruits and vegetables have small amounts of most minerals that your body needs. By eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, you can avoid mineral deficiency. Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in fruits and vegetables, and it plays a role in blood clotting, cardiac function, nerve transmission, and smooth muscle contraction.
Phytochemicals are chemicals in plant foods that have not yet been proven to be essential individual nutrients but do play a role in facilitating your body’s ability to utilize essential nutrients from plant foods. Phytochemicals are the primary reason it is important to get a variety of vitamins and minerals from your diet instead relying on vitamin and mineral concentrates like pills or powders, which cannot provide the synergistic blend of chemicals present in whole fruits and vegetables.
Including More Fruit in Your Diet
The 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study found that the leading cause of death and disability in the United States was a result of the American diet, with the most glaring flaw being a lack of fruit. Consuming two cups of fruit per day provides significant protection against multiple chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, and high cholesterol.
Including More Vegetables in Your Diet
Vegetables are among the most powerful fighters of disease and disability, delivering more nutrients per calorie than any other food group. Increasing vegetable intake can help to avoid chronic disease and disability, and even extend your lifespan.
Ultimately, an adequate intake of fruits and vegetables gives your body the tools it needs to perform at its best. The simple change of including more of them in your diet can be a huge step forward for your health and longevity.
How can you ensure that more fruits and veggies can fit into your diet? Find the 20 Ways to Enjoy More Fruits and Vegetables here and send me an email if you have questions!