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Forget the antioxidant-pill hype and get all of the health benefits from antioxidants and phytochemicals by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.
A healthy diet incorporating seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables has been shown in many scientific studies to reduce cardiovascular disease and overall deaths attributable to cancer. The WHO states that insufficient fruit and vegetable intake is linked to approximately 14 percent of gastrointestinal cancer deaths, about 11 percent of heart attack deaths, and 9 percent of stroke deaths globally.World Health Organization. “Global Strategies on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health.” Accessed September 30, 2011. http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/fruit/en/index.html. The WHO estimates that, overall, 2.7 million deaths could be avoided annually by increasing fruit and vegetable intake. These preventable deaths place an economic, social, and mental burden on society. This is why, in 2003, the WHO and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations launched a campaign to promote fruit and vegetable intake worldwide.
In the last section we reviewed the health benefits of particular antioxidants and phytochemicals obtained from fruits and vegetables and discovered that naturally incorporating them in the diet rather than taking supplements is best. Here we will consider the scientific evidence that diets rich in antioxidants actually lower chronic disease risk.
Not only has the several-billion-dollar supplement industry inundated us with FDA-unapproved health claims, but science is continously advancing and providing us with a multitude of promising health benefits from particular fruits, vegetables, teas, herbs, and spices. For instance, blueberries protect against cardiovascular disease, an apple or pear a day reduces stroke risk by over 52 percent, eating more carrots significantly reduces the risk of bladder cancer, drinking tea reduces cholesterol and helps glucose homeostasis, and cinnamon blocks infection and reduces the risk of some cancers. However, recall that science also tells us that no one nutrient alone is shown to provide these effects.
What micronutrient and phytochemical sources are best at protecting against chronic disease? All of them, together. Just as there is no wonder supplement or drug, there is no superior fruit, vegetable, spice, herb, or tea that protects against all diseases. A review in the July–August 2010 issue of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity concludes that the plant-food benefits to health are attributed to two main factors—that nutrients and phytochemicals are present at low concentrations in general, and that the complex mixtures of nutrients and phytochemicals provides additive and synergistic effects.Bouayed, J. and T. Bohn. “Exogenous Antioxidants—Double-Edged Swords in Cellular Redox State: Health Beneficial Effects at Physiologic Doses versus Deleterious Effects at High Doses.” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 3, no. 4 (2010): 228–37. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2952083/?tool=pubmed. In short, don’t overdo it with supplements and make sure you incorporate a wide variety of nutrients in your diet.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals promotes health. Consider these diets:
An article in the January 2009 issue of the Medscape Journal of Medicine reports that fewer than one in ten Americans consumes the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, which is between five and thirteen servings per day.Kimmons, J. et al. “Fruit and Vegetable Intake among Adolescents and Adults in the United States: Percentage Meeting Individualized Recommendations.” Medscape Journal of Medicine 11, no. 1 (2009): 26. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2654704/?tool=pubmed. According to this study, the largest single contributor to fruit intake was orange juice, and potatoes were the dominant vegetable.
The USDA recommends that you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. The number of servings of fruits and vegetables that a person should consume every day is dependent on age, sex, and level of physical activity. For example, a forty-year-old male who exercises for sixty minutes per day should consume 2 cups of fruit and 3½ cups of vegetables, while a fifteen-year-old female who exercises for thirty minutes per day should consume 1½ cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables. (One cup of a fruit or vegetable is equal to one banana, one small apple, twelve baby carrots, one orange, or one large sweet potato.) To find out the amount of fruits and vegetables the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends, see Note 8.25 "Interactive 8.4".
The CDC provides a fruit- and vegetable-intake calculator.
Eating more fruits and vegetables can make you think better, too. According to a study published in 2009 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, no matter your age, eating more fruits and vegetables improves your brain function.Polidori, M.C. et al. “High Fruit and Vegetable Intake Is Positively Correlated with Antioxidant Status and Cognitive Performance in Healthy Subjects.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 17, no. 4 (2009): 921–7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19542607. Check out Note 8.26 "Interactive 8.5" for thirteen fun ways to increase your fruit and vegetable intake.
Visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s website to discover thirteen fun ways to increase your fruit and vegetable intake.
For individually based strategies on how to stretch your fruit and vegetable budget see Note 8.27 "Interactive 8.6".
The Department of Health and Human Services provides “30 Ways in 30 Days to Stretch Your Fruit and Vegetable Budget.”
Accept the challenge of optimizing your fruit and vegetable intake. Make it easier on your wallet by choosing five of the thirty ways (Note 8.27 "Interactive 8.6") to stretch your fruit and vegetable budget, and implement them in the next seven days.
The CDC has developed seven strategies to increase American’s intake of fruits and vegetables.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The CDC Guide to Fruit and Vegetable Strategies to Increase Access, Availability, and Consumption.” March 2010. http://www.cdph.ca.gov/SiteCollectionDocuments/StratstoIncreaseFruitVegConsumption.pdf.
The seven strategies developed by the CDC are based on the idea that improving access to and availability of fruits and vegetables will lead to an increase in their consumption.