“Fruits and vegetables, essential elements of your diet”. This is the FAO motto that accompanies the declaration of 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. Accustomed to powerful messages, the simplicity of this slogan may go unnoticed among the tons of information we receive daily.
Although there are no miracle foods, fresh fruits and vegetables are the closest thing. However, they lose the battle against the competition of more palatable, usually unhealthy products, which have the insistent support of advertising.
Fiber and vitamins
The fiber It is usually one of the most used nutrients in advertising to encourage the consumption of processed products. The “high fiber” has become a common claim in breakfast cereals and cookies, especially those aimed at women.
But the truth is that no need to go to processed products to get a good daily fiber intake. Follow the recommendations of at least three pieces of fruit and two servings of vegetables contributes more than half of the 25g of fiber that we adults should take.
On the other hand, every winter it is common to resort to the consumption of nutritional supplements to “improve the defenses”. The components that perform this function are added vitamins or minerals, what “contribute to the normal function of the immune system“, according to the opinion of the European Union.
Fruits and vegetables too contain nutrients with the same function. This is the case of vitamin C, present in most of them. And also folic acid, which is in many vegetables, especially green leafy ones (spinach, artichokes, broccoli …).
The argument that supplements carry higher amounts of these nutrients is highly debatable. It is a mistake to think that the more vitamins, the more beneficial effect. In fact, abuse supplements May cause adverse side effects.
Consume the adequate amount of fruit and vegetables provides the recommended daily dose of vitamin C, almost all potassium and folic acid. In addition to more than half of B6 and an interesting proportion of vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B5.
These vitamins and potassium are involved in many other physiological processes. Among them, the correct functioning of the nervous system, the heart and the red blood cells, as well as the maintenance of the skin and vision. They even help reduce tiredness and fatigue.
Not eating fruits and vegetables can be fatal
Despite what has been said so far, we must not fall into the temptation of attribute spectacular properties to fruits and vegetables for the benefit of our health. No food possesses them.
What scientific studies do show is an indisputable relationship between fruits, vegetables and health. According to World Health Organization, “It is estimated that in 2017 about 3.9 million deaths were due to inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables“. The cardiovascular diseases they were the mediators of 2 million of these deaths due to low fruit consumption and more than 1.4 million in the case of vegetables.
We also have evidence that the increased intake of fruits and vegetables decreases the mortality risk from any cause, reduces the risk of overweight / obesity and weight gain. In addition, consuming fruit decreases the probability of suffering hypertension.
There is strong evidence that vegetables and fruits help to protect against various types of Cancer that affect the respiratory tract and the upper part of the digestive system. Although the evidence is limited, it could also protect against other types of tumors. On the contrary, low intakes could be a risk factor for colorectal cancer.
Tricks to promote its consumption
Contrary to some hoaxes that circulate, we can eat fruits and vegetables at any moment of the day. In fact, a good idea is to have them always in sight so that, in a fit of appetite, we can take them without searching much.
It is common to have fruit for dessert, but it can also be a very good snack for lunch and a snack. If one day we are lacking in fruit, we can even start lunch or dinner with it.
This strategy can also be interesting with vegetables, and it works especially well with children who have a hard time eating this food. Mind you, what always works best for them is to see that mom and dad take them and enjoy it.
Making fruits and vegetables attractive is no longer a mystery with the help of the internet, where we can find a thousand and one attractive plate designs, salads and recipes. Of course, it is always better that they are seasonal.
As a suggestion, we propose to prepare a main vegetable dish per day, either fresh or cooked, and salad at the two main meals. For cooking, it is preferable that it be steamed or sautéed. If we boil them, better with little water and use the broth for some other recipe.
It is indisputable that increasing the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables represents a advantage for our health. Making it a personal priority is the best way to achieve these benefits.
Ana Belén Ropero Lara, Professor of Nutrition and Food Science at the Miguel Hernández University and director of the BADALI project.