Instead of blindly following advice to get between seven and ten servings of fruits and veggies every day (people in the Mediterranean get an average of nine servings per day!), it’s important to understand the benefits of filling half of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables.
The color is not just for show. Each color of fruit and veggie, from red beets to orange carrots to white cauliflower, represents phytonutrients that give the fruit or veggie health benefits. By eating from the rainbow, you get a mix of antioxidants that help fight disease like heart disease and cancer, protect your immune function, and improve your brain function. In addition, fruits and vegetables contain the following:
Fiber. All fruits and vegetables contain fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and improve digestive health. Fiber can also reduce your risk for some types of cancers. In addition, foods with fiber fill you up and keep you more satisfied. Research shows that people who meet their fiber needs (at least 25 grams per day for women, 38 grams per day for men) are more likely to lose weight and keep it off.
Potassium. This mineral helps reduce high blood pressure and plays a role in normal brain function. If you’ve had cramps, you may have been told to eat a banana; that’s because the potassium is key for normal muscle contraction. Potassium is also dense in tomatoes, potatoes, and leafy green veggies.
Vitamin A. The orange color of carrots, oranges, and apricots is due to the presence of beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in your body. Ever hear carrots are good for your eyes? That’s because vitamin A helps protect eye health; it also works as an immune booster.
Vitamin C. You can get a solid dose of vitamin C from oranges, red and green peppers, strawberries, sweet potatoes, and broccoli, to name a few items. Although it’s not a cure for the common cold, vitamin C can help reduce your risk for infection.
People who eat more vitamin C have higher levels of the vitamin in their blood, and at least one study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition associated these higher levels with a much lower risk for stroke. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, protecting your cells inside and outside, and it can help reduce signs of aging.
Folate. This B vitamin is key for cell repair and brain function. All prenatal vitamins contain folate because it’s vital for fetal brain and spinal cord development. You find folate in green leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale, and broccoli, as well as in strawberries and oranges. Folate helps remove homocysteine, a compound that can cause artery damage, so it’s important for heart health and can reduce your risk for stroke.
Two other obvious benefits that still merit being stated: 1) When you eat fruits and vegetables at every single meal or snack, you’re eating fewer items that may not be as nutritious. 2) The fiber and high water content of many fruits and vegetables allow you to eat larger portions for fewer calories than most foods.
As a bonus, not only are you getting more nutrition, but you’ll also be more satisfied and better able to keep your portions in check throughout the day.