Fruit and vegetables and protection against diseases
Vegetables and fruit contain phytochemicals, or plant chemicals. These biologically active substances can help to protect you from some diseases. Scientific research shows that if you regularly eat lots of fruit and vegetables, you have a lower risk of:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart (cardiovascular) disease – when fruits and vegetables are eaten as food, not taken as supplements
- Cancer – some forms of cancer, later in life
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
Types of fruit
Fruit is the sweet, fleshy, edible part of a plant. It generally contains seeds. Fruits are usually eaten raw, although some varieties can be cooked. They come in a wide variety of colours, shapes and flavours. Common types of fruits that are readily available include:
- Apples and pears
- Citrus – oranges, grapefruits, mandarins and limes
- Stone fruit – nectarines, apricots, peaches and plums
- Tropical and exotic – bananas and mangoes
- Berries – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwifruit and passionfruit
- Melons – watermelons, rockmelons and honeydew melons
- Tomatoes and avocados.
Types of vegetables
Vegetables are available in many varieties and can be classified into biological groups or ‘families’, including:
- Leafy green – lettuce, spinach and silverbeet
- Cruciferous – cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli
- Marrow – pumpkin, cucumber and zucchini
- Root – potato, sweet potato and yam
- Edible plant stem – celery and asparagus
- Allium – onion, garlic and shallot.
Legumes or pulses contain nutrients that are especially valuable. Legumes need to be cooked before they are eaten – this improves their nutritional quality, aids digestion and eliminates any harmful toxins. Legumes come in many forms including:
- Soy products – tofu (bean curd) and soybeans
- Legume flours – chickpea flour (besan), lentil flour and soy flour
- Dried beans and peas – haricot beans, red kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils
- Fresh beans and peas – green peas, green beans, butter beans, broad beans and snow peas.
Colours of fruits and vegetables
You will get the most health benefits and protection against disease if you eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The National Health and Medical Research Council recommend that adults eat at least five kinds of vegetable and two kinds of fruit every day.
Foods of similar colours generally contain similar protective compounds. Try to eat a rainbow of colourful fruits and vegetables every day to get the full range of health benefits. For example:
- Red foods – like tomatoes and watermelon. These contain lycopene, which is thought to be important for fighting prostate cancer and heart disease
- Green vegetables – like spinach and kale. These contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help protect against age-related eye disease
- Blue and purple foods – like blueberries and eggplant. These contain anthocyanins, which may help protect the body from cancer
- White foods – like cauliflower. These contain sulforaphane and may also help protect against some cancers.
Fruit and vegetable serving suggestions for your family’s health
Vegetables and fruit are a handy snack food and are easily carried to work or school. Include them in everyone’s meals and snacks for a healthy, well-balanced diet. Some suggestions include:
- Keep snack-size fruit and vegetable portions easily accessible in your fridge.
- Keep fresh fruit on the bench or table.
- Add fruit and vegetables to your favourite family recipes or as additions to your usual menus.
- Use the colour and texture of a variety of fruit and vegetables to add interest to your meals.
- Think up new ways to serve fruits and vegetables.
Some simple ways to serve fruits and vegetables include:
- fruit and vegetable salads
- vegetable or meat-and-vegetable stir-fries
- raw fruit and vegetables
- vegetable soups
- snack pack, stewed or canned fruits or dried fruits.
Limit fruit juice, as it does not contain the same amount of nutrients as fresh fruit. It also contains a lot of sugars. These sugars are not necessarily good for your health, even though they are ‘natural’. Instead, have a drink of water and a serve of fruit.