Every time you eat your 5-A-Day, you're looking out for your future. Scientists believe that eating fruits and vegetables can help prevent disease, especially some cancers and heart disease.
Getting your 5-A-Day may also help prevent the onset of cataracts, a condition that can cause blindness.
Nearly all fruits and vegetables are low in fat, and that's especially good for a healthy heart. Many fruits and vegetables contain vitamins that may prevent cancer.
Fruits and vegetables contain fiber, which may help prevent both cancer and heart disease.
Scientists are also finding other substances, called phytochemicals, that may protect the body even more.
For example, some phytochemicals stop damage to our cells from everyday wear and tear, as well as cancer growth. The good news is that most fruits and vegetables contain at least some of these phytochemicals.
But not all fruits and vegetables will have the same kind of phytochemicals. By eating at least five servings a day, we improve our chances of reaping all the benefits available.
What counts as a serving? A serving size is smaller than many people think. A serving is defined as:
One medium-sized fruit (an apple, orange, banana, pear)
1/2 cup of raw, cooked, canned, or frozen fruits or vegetables
3/4 cup (6 ounces) of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice
1/2 cup cut-up fruit
1/2 cup cooked or canned legumes (beans and peas)
1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables (such as lettuce, spinach)
1/4 cup dried fruit (like raisins, apricots, mango)
Getting to 5-A-Day isn't as hard as it sounds. Here are a few quick tips:
- Choose your fruits and vegetables in the form you like best: fresh, frozen, dried or canned.
- Top your cereal with raisins.
- Try new combinations of foods. Toss grapes into yogurt or pasta. Put salsa on your baked potato (this combination counts as two servings).
- Order pizza with mushrooms, onions, peppers, broccoli or spinach - that's more than one serving.
- Get the most out of your juice. If you drink juice, make sure you select 100 percent pure juice and not a sweetened juice drink.
- Stash dried fruit mix in your desk for a snack.
- Got a sweet tooth? Try the sweetness of fresh fruits before you reach for candy.
- Vegetable and bean soups count too and are a great way to use leftover vegetables.
- Eat the garnishes that make your plate look beautiful. Try that orange slice and especially that green parsley. Not only are they nature's best remedy for fresh breath, they are naturally nutritious.
Fruits and vegetables taste great, provide energy from carbohydrates, add color and texture to meals, are easy to prepare, are low in fat and calories, cholesterol free, and are good sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
So try to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day to keep the doctor away.
Lynn F. Little is the family and consumer sciences educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.