From the time the first hunter gatherers noticed them, fruits and vegetables have been consumed by people. The flavor and taste of nature’s produce has greatly affected how the human civilization developed. Over time hunters and gatherers realized that seeds could be planted in the ground and grown.
Human beings first began to grow food around 8000-9000 BC. Archeological evidence indicates that agriculture started in Mesopotamia, and vegetables such as peas and grains were among the first to be grown. This development changed the way human beings lived and ate.
A fruit is the part of a flower bearing plant and is formed after flowering, from the ovary. It contains seeds, and the purpose of a fruit is to disseminate seeds and promote growth of the species. The word fruit has its etymological roots in the Latin word ‘fructus’ which means delight or enjoyment.
Fruits are usually fleshy, juicy, and quite delicious. And this is why humans as well as animals like to eat them and throw the seeds away. Thus, there is a symbiotic relationship between the fruit and the person or animal that consumes it. Fruits are most often eaten raw. Some fruits such as apples and pears can be consumed with the peel. On the other hand, the outer covering of fruits like water melon and oranges are usually removed.
Plants store food in different parts such as the leaves, stem, roots, flowers, and seeds. These are eaten as food by human beings and by animals. The word vegetable broadly covers all parts of a plant. It was only in the 18th century that plants that were grown for food came to be referred to as vegetables. In 1955, vegetables were popularly called veggies, a slang term.
The Benefits of Eating Vegetables and Fruits
Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals that are important for the proper functioning of the human body. It is beneficial to consume veggies and fruits on a daily basis. A lack of vitamins and minerals that are offered by them can cause deficiency diseases and weaken the body’s immune system. Here are some excellent reasons to eat several servings of vegetables and fruits daily.
A Vitamin and Mineral Boost
Most fruits and vegetables are rich in several vitamins and minerals that are essential for the human body, and promote normal functioning of the organ systems. For instance, spinach contains iron, calcium and vitamin C. It also includes a good dose of vitamin A. A cup of raw spinach offers adequate vitamin K to meet the daily requirements of an adult human body. This vitamin aids in the human body’s blood clotting process.
Even though technically tomatoes are categorized as a fruit, many people list them as a vegetable. It is rich in potassium and vitamin C. Most of the vitamins and minerals that are received from fruits and vegetables are water soluble. This means that unless the body uses them, they are thrown out of the system. And this is also why one needs to eat vegetables and fruits daily, and not just occasionally.
Fiber is Important
Fruits and vegetables contribute fiber to the diet. The purpose of including indigestible fiber to one’s food is to aid the digestive process and help in elimination of waste. The fiber absorbs water and facilitates good digestion, and eventually regular bowel movements.
Caloric and Glycemic Value
Vegetables and fruits offer the body nutrition, and are low in fats and in calories. They are also ranked low on the glycemic index. This means that they do not caused a sugar spike in the body, or the inevitable drop that makes people feel lethargic and hungry. Instead, when one eats veggies and fruits, they make the body feel full for a longer period of time. And hence, one is unlikely to snack on unhealthy foods.
Weight Loss and Weight Gain
Whether you wish to lose weight or gain it, eating vegetables and fruits daily can help you. While starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas can help one gain weight, intake of apples, soy and cauliflower is found to be beneficial for weigh loss.
Experts have identified certain vegetables such as gourd, broccoli, carrots, peppers and spinach that burn more calories than they offer the body. And to top it all, they also offer the body vitamins and minerals that keep it healthy and strong. Fruits like apricots, blackberries, plums, blackcurrants, and peaches burn calories. This makes them ideal for consumption as snacks.
Nutritionists find that when people eat vegetables and fruits regularly, they are likely to make healthier food choices. They tend to eat less processed and sugary foods. By eating adequate fruits and veggies not only can one prevent weight gain but can also facilitate weight loss.
A plant based diet offers the body phytochemicals like carotenoids, flavonoids and polyphenols. These chemicals compounds are found to be nonnutritive but have a positive impact on health. The red, yellow and orange color of some fruits and vegetables is due to the presence of carotenoids. These phytochemicals are powerful antioxidants that can protect the human body against the damage caused by free radicals. Research indicates that by eating foods that contain carotenoids one can minimize the risk of several diseases.
Like carotenoids, anthocyanins are phytochemicals that give some fruits and vegetables their beautiful colors. These phytochemicals give fruits and vegetables their blue, purple and red color. Vegetables like eggplants and red cabbage are rich in anthocyanins, as are fruits such as blueberries, cranberries and elderberries. Research indicates that anthocyanins offer the body antioxidants and protect it against liver disease and high blood pressure.
Flavonoids in veggies such as broccoli, beans, leeks and onions, are effective in reducing blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Flavonoids are also found in fruits like apricots, apples, cranberries and red grapes.
While some fruits and vegetables should ideally be eaten fresh, others are not affected by processes such as sun drying and freeze drying. For instance, the phytochemical levels in apricots and prunes is unaffected by drying, but it does affect grapes.
Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Prevent Disease
Cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancer and gastrointestinal disease can be prevented by the regular and adequate consumption of fruits and vegetables. Across the globe, researchers are studying the impact of fruit and vegetable consumption and its impact on disease. The results are gratifying.
A research study conducted by the World Cancer Research Fund found that the intake of vegetables that are not starchy, such as broccoli, bok choy, cabbage and onions, can protect the human body against many types of cancer. It has also been suggested that fruits can protect the body from cancer that affects the stomach, lungs, mouth and throat.
Research suggests that those people who eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily are less likely to experience coronary disease and stroke than those who consume fewer than three servings. Similarly, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is found to lower blood pressure. It can also help prevent diseases that affect the vision. Regular intake of fruits and vegetables can keep cataract and macular degeneration, both age related eye diseases, at bay.
How Much Vegetables and Fruits Do You Need?
It is a well accepted fact that fruits and vegetables are directly linked to the health one enjoys. Over the last few decades, dietitians and nutritionists have discussed the many benefits of eating a balanced diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits. However, it can get a bit confusing to decide just how much fruits and vegetables one should eat.
The United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, recommends that at very meal time vegetables and fruits should occupy half of one’s plate. The same is also true of snacks. This guideline is clear and simple, and quite easy to follow. Since one can visually identify if the fruits and vegetables on the plate occupy half the available space, one does not have to worry about weighing or measuring them.
How to Choose Fruits and Vegetables
When you shop for fruits and veggies, it is a good idea to ensure that you eat food that is colorful. While pumpkins, carrots and sweet potatoes offer your body beta carotene, green veggies such as spinach and broccoli are rich in vitamins and minerals. So, the more colorful your plate, the more nutrition it offers you.
It is a good idea to eat fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown locally and are seasonal. You may wish to shop at the grocery store or visit a weekly farmer’s market. Planning your meals in advance can help you buy the produce you will need. It will also motivate you to keep to a regimented dietary plan. When shopping for frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, do take the time to read the details offered on the packaging. It is best to avoid products that add sugar or salt to the veggies and fruits.
A good way to ensure that you do not forget to eat fruits is by increasing visibility and accessibility. A bowl of fruits placed on the dining table, kitchen counter or on a table close to your television or computer should encourage more fruit intake.