Vegetables Are the Key to Great Nutrition

How to Increase Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

By Laurie Greene, Editor

In honor of National Eat Your Veggies Day, we spoke with Francene Steinberg, department chair and professor of nutrition at UC Davis, and director of the UC Davis Dietetics Education Program for undergrads. She encouraged the importance of leaning on vegetables for optimum nutrition and health benefits.

Francene Steinberg, department chair and professor of nutrition at UC Davis
Francene Steinberg, department chair and professor of nutrition at UC Davis

“A varied diet of fruits and vegetables, along with grains and some protein sources is extremely valuable to give everybody the best energy for them to grow,” Steinberg said. “It really is so important to get the full spectrum of all the nutrients in these foods, particularly the vegetables.”

“In addition to all the required nutrients,” she explained, “we know the required vitamins and minerals—those that we know about and for which we have the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), the “average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.” (Source: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine)

Continuing, Steinberg said, “There are also quite a few other nutrients and compounds in those foods that are good for usthat have biologic effects. Not only just fibers, but also phytochemicals, phytonutrients, they are really part of what helps to promote overall health. It’s not just the vitamins and minerals in a vitamin pill. You really need to eat the whole fruits and vegetables and grains, and so forth, to get the full effects,” noted Steinberg.

There is a new approach to how much produce people should eat on a daily basis. Steinberg noted the importance of eating the rainbow; fruits and vegetables of every color. Previous nutrition campaigns used to stress the importance of consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

“Most people don’t even come near to eating the amount of vegetables they need. Rather than focusing on a specific number, an easier goal is just eat more than you currently do, in terms of vegetables. Eat one more serving each day. Try a new vegetable each week. See if you like them,” said Steinberg.

Eat The Rainbow

In particular, Steinberg recommended red beets which are a wonderful vegetable to add to your eating list. “Beets are delicious. These deeply colored fruits and vegetableswhether they’re red, or green, or orangethat really denotes they have more nutrients in them. There are all these colored compounds that are often bioactive in the body. They really are good for you. You can, as you say, eat the rainbow by choosing these brightly colored fruits and vegetables.” noted Steinberg.

Steinberg encourages consumers to 'eat the rainbow'.
Steinberg encourages consumers to ‘”eat the rainbow.”

By consuming more vegetables, consumers can more avoid many chronic diseases. “I think that certainly most of the chronic diseases we suffer from today stem from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, that sort of thing,” Steinberg commented. “They’re often a combination of overconsumption of overall calories and empty nutrients, and not enough consumption of some of these fruits and vegetables that hold such valuable nutrients for us,” said Steinberg.

“It really is a matter of trying to make your diet as nutrient-rich as possible, and really avoiding those empty calories that seem to provide us lots of extra calories without any added benefit,” she stated. “If folks can cut down on some of the sugary and highly fatty snacks, chips and that sort of thing, and eat a piece of fruit or an extra vegetable serving per day they’re really much better off.”

Steinberg suggested one way to stimulate the desire to eat more vegetables is by making them readily available. “I think sometimes when people buy some of the produce, then they put it away in the refrigerator, it’s not visible. It’s hidden and they go to the cupboard and look and there’s a bag of chips that’s very easy to grab.”

She also recommended ways to make sure produce is not left behind. Consumers can purchase “fruits and vegetables that are already pre-washed and cut up, and put them in a little baggie or bowl on the counter, if they’re not perishable, or just a baggie in the refrigerator. It’s a quick grab and go. You can take it and have it as a quick snack. Things that are appealing to children are small bites that are easily consumed, bright and colorful.”

Steinberg recommended consumers “try to find those fruits and vegetables that are very fresh. Sometimes the ones we find in the grocery stores are not as flavorful as [backyard-grown], from the farmer’s market, or even just knowing which vegetables are in season. At the grocery store, the best things that are in season are usually going to be the freshest and tastiest. ” said Steinberg.

Fresh is not the only way consumers can enjoy the benefits of produce since frozen varieties are easy to come by. “Some of the frozen whole vegetables and fruits are highly nutritious,” said Steinberg. “They’re very affordable and available year round.”

Steinberg also mentioned the availability of low calorie dips such as hummus can easily be found in grocery and convenience stores which encourages more fresh vegetable consumption. In fact, hummus is primarily chickpeas, another great vegetable. “Dipping fresh vegetables in hummus. That’s delicious,” she said.

Why Almonds Belong in Your Diet

Almond Nutrition

Source: Alissa Fleck, Demand Media

Natural, unsalted almonds are a tasty and nutritious snack with plenty of health benefits. Loaded with minerals, they are also among the healthiest of tree nuts. Just a handful of nutrient-rich almonds a day helps promote heart health and prevent weight gain, and it may even help fight diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Nutrition

Eating about 23 almonds a day is an easy way to incorporate many crucial nutrients into your diet. Almonds are rich in vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, minerals and potassium. Additionally, almonds are a significant source of protein and fiber, while being naturally low in sugar. One 23-almond serving packs 13 grams of healthy unsaturated fats, 1 gram of saturated fat and no cholesterol or salt. Of all tree nuts, almonds rank highest in protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin content by weight. There are 160 calories in 23 almonds. While many of these calories come from fat, it is primarily the healthy unsaturated fats and not the unhealthy saturated kind.

Almond Hull-split
Almond Hull-split

Heart Health

According to the FDA, eating 1.5 ounces a day of most nuts, like almonds, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Many of the nutrients in almonds help contribute to increased heart health. For one, almonds are rich in magnesium, which is critical in preventing heart attacks and hypertension. Several clinical studies have also shown almonds can be effective in reducing bad cholesterol and preserving healthy cholesterol, which plays a major role in heart health.

Weight Maintenance

Nuts, like almonds, are also beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight. The fiber, protein and fat content of almonds means it only takes a handful to keep you feeling full and satisfied so you won’t have the urge to overeat. According to “Fitness” magazine, the magnesium in almonds helps regulate blood sugar, which is key in reducing food cravings. Almonds may even be able to block the body’s absorption of calories, making them the ultimate weight-loss-friendly snack. Because almonds are naturally high in calories, it’s important to limit your serving size to the recommended 1 ounce, or 23 nuts.

Other Health Benefits

Almonds may also promote gastrointestinal health and even combat diabetes. The high fiber content of almonds gives them prebiotic properties, which contributes to health in the gastrointestinal tract. Prebiotics are non-digestible food substances, which serve as food for the good bacteria in the intestinal tract and help maintain a healthy balance. According to a study by the American Diabetes Association, a Mediterranean diet incorporating nuts, such as almonds, helps fight diabetes even without significant changes to weight, physical activity or caloric intake.