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The Importance of Fruits and Vegetables
There are many reasons we do not get enough quality fruits and vegetables in our diets. Some simply do not like the taste, others have difficulty digesting them and many people are too busy and find themselves grabbing quick and easy go-to processed foods. In addition to not eating enough fruits and vegetables, poor farming practices, overcooking foods and prolonged shelf time can diminish available nutrients in the fruits and vegetables consumed. Whatever the reasons we don’t consume enough quality fruits and vegetables, we all know we need the nutrients fruits and vegetables provide for not only a long life but maintain quality of life.
The benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables come with such as essential and non-essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, enzymes, phytochemicals, and natural detoxifiers that highly processed foods simply do not provide at the same level.
Macronutrients are nutrients our bodies need a lot of such as carbohydrates, fats, fiber, proteins, and water. Micronutrients are nutrients we need very small amounts of such as trace minerals. Nutrients are either nonessential or essential. Nonessential nutrients and are made by the body. Essential nutrients are not made by the body, therefore, must be obtained through eating foods. Phytochemicals typically identified by the color of food are not classified as nutrients but the early evidence is suggesting that they are equally beneficial for health.
Vitamins are either fat-soluble such as A, D, E, and K or water-soluble such as B and C vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins stay in the body for longer periods allowing the body to build reserves while water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body and are excreted through the urine. While the body can make some vitamins, it should be noted that most of the vitamins come through the consumption of food.
There are 15 minerals and 7 of them are essential minerals including 7 macro minerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur. Additionally, 8 trace minerals are consisting of iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride, and selenium. Minerals do not produce energy but rather support the metabolic process for energy. The benefits of minerals are wide and diverse. They influence everything from strong bones, nerve impulses, hormones, heart rate, immunity, and muscle tension just to name a few.
These super nutrients slow the oxidation of cells. As cells become oxidized they become less efficient. It is vitally important to get enough antioxidants in the diet because every part of your body is made of cells and the body depends on cellular health. Antioxidants come from plants. The antioxidants plants produce to protect them from oxidation. When we eat antioxidant-rich plants we take on the anti-oxidation benefits of the plants. What was good for the plant cells is equally as effective for our human cells. Maintaining cellular health is the key to effectively getting good stuff into the cells of the body and bad stuff out of the cells of the body. If cells are prematurely oxidized know as oxidative stress then cells, proteins, and DNA can become damaged leading to serious medical conditions.
When we do not get enough fiber we can end up with digestive discomfort and constipation. While no one wants the discomfort a lack of fiber causes, it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to other potential complications. Soluble fiber dissolves in water which creates a gel that thickens and slows the movement of chime in the small intestine slowing the absorption of glucose into the blood. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and as it enters the large intestine stimulates peristalsis or in other words, moves food waste for disposal. Insoluble fiber also serves as food for healthy microbes in your gut. Without fiber, we cannot support the healthy microbes required for a robust immune system.
While enzymes are not on the list of nutrients on food packages, they are found in all living things including the food we eat and the bodies we occupy. Have you ever wondered why processed food can last for years on a shelf? Well, it’s because the processing of the food has damaged the cell walls of the food and destroyed all the enzymes. When cells are broken, they leak out enzymes which break down the material. As an example, if an apple is dropped on the ground it will develop a bruise which is caused by the breaking of cell membranes which allows the enzymes to leak out which breaks down the material. This is why it is so important to chew your food thoroughly. If the enzymes found in the foods are not present then when consumed the enzymes of the consumer of the food need to do the work.
The colors of fruits and vegetables are more than a way to create interest on a plate. The colors in plants are known as phytonutrients which contain powerful antioxidants and other health-promoting properties which may prevent disease and enhance the way our bodies work. When purchasing your food choose darker varieties as these have the most phytonutrients in them. Even when choosing the same food such as red pepper, choose the darker of the peppers available. There are more than 25,000 phytonutrients. A few honorable mentions are carotenoids (orange-yellow) rich in beta carotene great for eye health, lycopene (red-pink) which is great for urinary tract health, lutein (green) great for the blood, and flavonoids (Blue purple) for brain health.
Fruits and vegetables are not only full of nutrition they also serve as the resources for lymphatic and digestive action which is like the department of sanitation to the city you live in. Much like a city needs adequate resources to maintain a healthy community so does the human body. Just like a city, you too need a sanitation department equipped with the best resources and systems for effective elimination. Without proper sanitation, a community or the body can become toxic, inefficient, and ultimately sick. Some excellent detoxifiers consist of milk thistle for the liver which serves as the main filter of the body, cilantro for harmful microbe control which can compete with healthy microbes and turmeric for thinning thick viscous blood so the blood can bring fresh new blood throughout the arteries and remove waste through the veins.
Over time, nutrient deficiencies can lead to serious systemic issues affecting all the systems of the body and corresponding organs resulting in diminished functions in the body. While I cannot say you will never get diseases as a result of eating a healthy diet, I can say you can significantly diminish your chances of getting diseases by eating enough fruits and vegetables. I can also say that if you have a disease that is being treated by a licensed healthcare professional that eating more fruits and vegetables will enhance the treatments you are receiving. While diet alone is not enough, neither is modern medicine. A combination of diet, exercise, and stress management along with medicine as needed is recommended to live a life of greater health and quality of life. As discussed in the opening of this article it can be difficult to get enough fruits and vegetables every day and even when we do eat enough of them the nutrient density might not be there due to modern food processes. For many, a super greens supplement may be needed to ensure enough of the vital nutrients required for living a healthier life. When looking for a super green supplement look for not only the greens but also other colors such as reds, yellows, oranges, and blues. I would also recommend a supplement with additional nutrients mentioned in this article.
About Paul Bernitt, DHH.
Paul is a passionate advocate for early detection, prevention, and wellness, and brings extensive healthcare education, experience, and leadership to his role as the Director of the TriVita Clinic of Integrative Medicine.