When time, energy, and patience are in short supply due to a busy and chaotic schedule, our diet can begin to look more monotone and dull. Fast food and takeout can be cheap, convenient, and tasty, but the consequences of choosing ease over nutrition far outweigh the benefits. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be hard to eat healthily — ensuring your diet is rich in different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is a simple way to eat better with little effort.
Take a stroll down your neighborhood grocery store’s produce section, and you’ll likely find a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Whether organic, conventional, local, or imported from around the world, the choice is yours to make. Including fruits and vegetables in your diet is a great way to increase your daily fiber intake along with many different vitamins and minerals, all essential to a healthy diet. Check out the chart below to learn more:¹
|Vitamin A||Promotes healthy immune and reproductive systems. Helps with vision, growth, and keeping skin healthy.¹⁰||Mangoes, apricots, pumpkins, and cantaloupes.¹⁰||Red pepper, carrots, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, leafy greens.¹⁰|
|B Vitamins: thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), and biotin (B7)||Helps with nutrient absorption and DNA building (including brain and nerve cells). May reduce cancer and heart disease risk.¹¹||Avocados, bananas, berries, and many other fruits.¹¹||Dark leafy vegetables, like bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, and mustard greens.¹¹|
|Folate (folic acid, B9)||Promotes the creation of red blood cells. For pregnant individuals, it reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as anencephaly and spina bifida, during fetal development.⁸ ⁹||Fresh fruits and fruit juices.⁸||Dark leafy greens, including spinach, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.⁸|
|Vitamin C||Used in the production of collagen, the absorption of non-heme iron, antioxidant function, and fighting off infections.¹²||Oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruits, strawberries, tomatoes, mangoes, and kiwis.¹²||Broccoli, bell pepper, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and potatoes.¹²|
|Vitamin E||Promotes healthy skin, vision, and immune system. Helps fight against damage from exposure to free radicals such as radiation, cigarette smoke, and pollution.¹³||Mangoes, avocados, and pumpkins.¹³||Spinach, asparagus, collard greens, red bell peppers.¹³|
|Vitamin K: phylloquinone||A fat-soluble vitamin used to make proteins that contribute to blood clotting and bone-building.¹⁴||Blueberries and figs.³²||Dark leafy greens like collard and turnip greens, kale, spinach, and broccoli.¹⁴|
|Potassium||An essential mineral that facilitates muscle contraction, regulates healthy blood pressure, and aids in maintaining normal fluid levels within cells. It can also reduce your risk of kidney stones.¹⁵||Avocados, bananas, cantaloupes, tomatoes, and oranges.¹⁵||Potatoes, squash, broccoli, spinach, and leafy greens.¹⁵|
Fiber plays an essential role in digestion, cholesterol control, weight maintenance, and the creation of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).² SCFAs can be used in the body as energy, but research suggests they may also play an important role in gut-brain communication and might be useful in treatments for cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).³
Fiber can help with satiety and digestion, as well. High-fiber fruits like apples and pears can make you feel more satisfied. The insoluble fibers from peels can keep your bowel movements regular, decreasing your chances of constipation and diverticular disease (diverticulosis/diverticulitis).²³ Eating fruit can also reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) and obesity while lowering inflammation and blood pressure.²
Both fruits and vegetables have shown some evidence that they reduce the risk of breast cancer, but research shows that eating more fruit in adolescence (2.9 servings per day, according to one study) can further reduce the risk by about 25%.¹⁶ Other studies suggest a potential link between tomatoes and a lower risk of prostate cancer in men.³⁰ ³¹ A few researchers theorize that this protective effect might be due to lycopene, a carotenoid found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables. However, the FDA uncovered limited evidence to support this claim. More research is needed to examine the potential links (if any) between carotenoids, including lycopene, and different cancers.⁴ ²¹ ²²
If you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes or have other metabolic concerns, be mindful of how you consume fruit. Whole fruit with the skin, like berries, apples, and grapes, can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes, while fruit juices can increase your risk.²⁸ Because fruit juices lack the same amount of fiber and often have added sugars, they can spike your blood sugar. It’s important to remain cautious of the vibrant and colorful packaging that promises health and wellness, as it can be misleading. So, remember to check the nutrition label and be mindful of your intake.⁴
Aim to eat one and a half to two cups of whole fruit daily (for a diet of about 2,000 calories) to reap the food group’s full benefits.²⁶
Vegetables are very high in nutrients and may reduce your risk of some diseases. A large cohort study observing the eating habits of 110,000 people over 14 years found that eight or more servings of vegetables and fruit a day led to a 30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease (including heart attack and stroke). The foods with the strongest contributions to this reduced risk were green leafy vegetables like spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and lettuce.⁴ ¹⁷
According to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may offer protection against obesity-related cancers, as the essential nutrients found in non-processed foods are more effective in controlling energy regulation.²⁹ Researchers also found a 16% decreased risk of estrogen-receptor-negative tumors for every two additional servings of vegetables eaten.¹⁸ ER-negative cancers are fast-growing and more common in pre-menopausal women.¹⁹
Like fruit, vegetables contain a lot of fiber. Consider replacing a snack with a colorful bowl of vegetables, like roasted sweet potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, bell peppers, mixed greens, or carrots paired with your favorite dressing. The fiber in these vegetables can feed your gut microbiome, making you feel fuller.³³ ³⁴
Strive to eat at least two and a half cups of vegetables each day for a diet of 1,800-2,000 calories.²⁶
Grains with the germ, endosperm, and bran intact are called whole grains. Eating the germ and the bran gives you valuable nutritional benefits, most of which aren’t in refined grains.⁶
A refined grain is a grain that has been stripped down to the endosperm and does not contain the germ or bran. Because of this, it offers little fiber and can easily spike blood glucose.⁶ Refined grains include white rice, white bread, crackers, and other baked goods made with refined flour.⁷ White bread and rice have a smoother, softer texture, whereas whole grains are chewier and denser due to the germ and bran. There are many types of whole grain to choose from, including:⁶
Eating whole grains has been shown to lower the risk of death from inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease, gout, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.²⁷ Researchers found that eating two or more servings a day of whole grains led to a:²⁰
Because whole grains contain more fiber, they are better for those with insulin resistance. The fiber slows the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, causing a steady release of glucose into the bloodstream. A study analyzing the eating habits of 160,000 women over a period of 18 years found that for every two servings of whole grain intake per day, there was a 21% reduction in type 2 diabetes risk.²⁴
When it comes to cancer, some research suggests that eating three servings of whole grains per day reduces the risk of colorectal cancer by about 17%.²⁵ However, more research is needed to confirm this effect.⁶
When shopping for whole grain items, be cautious when choosing packaged food products; some are high in calories and added sugars. Aim to pick out whole grain products that are high in fiber, lower in added sugars, and contain whole grains as the first ingredient. One of the best ways to include whole grains in your diet is to cook them at home and eat them in a meal paired with proteins, healthy fats, and vegetables.⁶
Try to ensure that a minimum of three out of the recommended six ounces of grains you consume daily (for a 2,200-calorie diet) are whole grains.⁵ ²⁶
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