Why eat more fruit and vegetables....
So…. I hear it time and time again from clients, and the most common recommendation that people think, when they go to see a nutritional therapist, they are just going to be advised to eat more vegetables?
While this may be true and it is often a starting point when making dietary changes to suggest eating more fruit and veg, I feel as a nutritional therapist it is part of a holistic plan. It doesn’t mean you have to go from eating none or very little to having 10 a day, but what I would recommend is taking small steps to increase the amount of veg you are eating throughout the day. There are many ways you can do this by trying new vegetables and adding them into staple meals, such as pasta dishes, curries or chillies for more warming meals, while summertime often calls for more soups and salads. Adding vegetables into breakfast meals with eggs also make a great start to the day.
But I feel it is important, particularly if you find it difficult to add in more vegetables that you understand why I am making these recommendations - why having more plant-based whole foods is so important and what it can do for your health.
Plants contain many nutrients that are important for our health; they contain vitamins and minerals that we need to keep our metabolism working to its optimum, enabling our cells to carry out their functions and have the energy they need to power us. But plants also contain more than just vitamins and minerals, they also contain polyphenols and antioxidants. All these phytochemicals have a range of impacts on our bodies. They can be anti-inflammatory and help support the immune system and together with the vitamins and minerals help reduce oxidative stress which is a process that causes cell damage (think of an apple browning when exposed to the air). Phytonutrients also help support cognitive function and mood, they have benefits for gut health and the microbiome, they help the communication pathways and hormones and play a role in insulin sensitivity - they help just about every bodily function to work to the best of their ability. So, the more we have of these phytochemicals the better, which is why as nutritional therapists we are always recommending eating more fruit and veg.
But it is not just the amount of fruit and vegetables – it is also diversity – eat the rainbow! If you just ate the same vegetables day in day out, the range of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients will be small, but if you eat the rainbow you are getting a wider range. This is because the different pigments in fruit and vegetables that give them their colours is showing you the variety of phytonutrients that you can consume, thus benefiting your health.
This is particularly important if we are looking to support our immune system at this time of Covid-19 - having a more diverse amount of fruit and vegetables is very significant and it is something that we can all simply and easily do to support our bodies and cells, and help with resilience in these challenging times.
You may well think you could just take a supplement with these nutrients, but I would recommend that actually eating raw or cooked fruit and vegetables whole not only gives you the nutrients you need but they often work synergistically together to promote optimum function for our bodies, and not forgetting that eating whole plants also provides fibre! Fibre plays many roles but eating vegetable fibre is particularly good for gut health and the microbiome and keeping the bowels functioning smoothly.
So now you get an idea why plants are so important in our diets, eating more plants for some may be because they wish to help the earth and environment, or to stop cruelty to animals, and that is a personal choice. But from a health point of view you want to eat more fruit and vegetables and eat a rainbow, diversity is key here.
Top Tips to try
· With each meal add in one more fruit or vegetable and build this up over the weeks and months
· Try the 50 Foods Challenge – over the course of a week try eating 50 different foods, including all food categories and herbs and spices, particularly think about all the vegetables you could eat!
· Try the Eat a Rainbow Challenge and get the kids involved, over the course of the week see how many brightly coloured foods you can consume
· Easy meals that you can add in more veg are - pasta dishes such as bolognaise and you can even then swap the pasta for courgette, or add in more veg to curries and switch the rice to cauliflower rice. Vegetable tray bakes are simple and easy, just roast a whole lot of different veg together. Try stir-frys or vegetable soups and of course you can get imaginative with salads, there are many different ways to sneak in more veg that you wouldn’t even notice - so get creative!
· Don’t forget to use herbs and spices to help enhance the flavours
I hope I have given you some ideas of how to add in more vegetables, but more than that I hope I have explained why having more, and more variety, is so important to our health.