Veggies can be a quick and healthy choice

October 11, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Research has shown that eating five servings or more a day of fruits and vegetables can make a significant contribution to lowering blood pressure and improving other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including stroke. Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the most common cause of disability.

In a study published in the January 2006 issue of The Lancet, researchers analyzed results from eight large population studies totaling more than 275,000 people over 13 years to determine the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of stroke. The individuals who consumed three to five servings per day were 11 percent less likely to have a stroke than those who did not eat at least three servings. Those who ate more than five servings per day were 26 percent less likely to have a stroke, when compared to those who ate fewer than three servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The authors' conclusions agreed with the current recommendations to consume more than five servings of fruit and vegetables each day for major stroke risk reduction.


Fruits and vegetables are considered a nutritional bargain because they are loaded with natural nutrients and fiber. To make it easier to choose veggies more often, take a shortcut and buy veggies that are ready to eat. Bags of spinach and other leafy greens are prewashed. No-chop veggies such as baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower florets and sugar snap peas can be ready for snacks as quickly as other higher calorie, less nutritious options.

Most of the time, fresh produce is recommended instead of canned and frozen varieties. One exception is when it comes to lycopene, which is recommended for its antioxidant properties and its role in prostate cancer prevention and other chronic diseases. Lycopene is absorbed more readily in the cooked form and is found in tomato-based foods - juice, sauce, paste and ketchup.

If you are watching your calorie intake, whole fruit gives you a bigger portion than the same fruit in dried form for the same number of calories. For example, a small box of raisins (one-quarter cup) is about 100 calories. For the same number of calories, you can eat 1 cup of grapes.

Take advantage of the seasonal availability of fruits and vegetables - this will make them more affordable. As we enter fall, those that are at their peak and most plentiful include apples, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, grapes, kale, pears, persimmons, pumpkins, winter squash and yams. Most important, choose a variety because of the different nutrients available among them, including vitamins C, A, E, thiamin, niacin, B6 and folic acid along with minerals and dietary fiber.

For the best selection:

· Choose fresh, frozen and canned vegetables and fruits without high-calorie sauces and added salt and sugars.

· Select fruits and vegetables more often in place of other high-calorie foods.

· Choose fruits and vegetables more often to increase daily fiber intake.

· Choose whole fruits and vegetables more often than juices.

· Visit and for information and recipes to help you include more fruits and vegetables into your healthy diet.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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