During the height of the pandemic, the United Nations shined a spotlight on the vital role of fresh fruits and vegetables in the health and future of the human race.
“As Covid-19 continues to affect the health and livelihoods of people across the world, we must come together to ensure that nutritious food, including fruits and vegetables, reaches the most vulnerable, leaving no one behind,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in 2021.
At Mee Memorial Healthcare System, our highest priority is to serve the healthcare needs of our community — and that includes highlighting the cornerstone of a healthy and varied diet.
It’s all part of practicing preventative medicine. It is our responsibility to protect, promote and maintain health and well-being, and to prevent disease, disability and premature death.
A good place to start is with fruits and vegetables, proven to provide the human body with an abundance of nutrients, while strengthening the immune system and helping lower risks for a number of diseases.
As a nonprofit, MMHS strives to be socially responsible in supporting and connecting to our rural community. We know that, on average, those living in rural areas experience higher rates of diabetes and coronary heart disease than those in urban areas.
It is our mission to help remove certain barriers that adversely affect their overall physical, social and mental health. Studies show that in comparison to non-rural U.S. adults, rural adults were less likely to consume five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables, thus putting them at greater risk for health disparities.
That’s why MMHS is celebrating National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month in June.
While most of us know that eating more fruits and vegetables is important for overall good health, do we actually know how much to eat, or which choices provide added benefits?
In general, fruits and vegetables provide a variety of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber — while remaining naturally low in calories, fat and sodium.
A produce-rich diet can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check.
If your idea of eating a vegetable is putting ketchup on your fried potatoes, know that such a diet eventually catches up with you.
It helps to think of your diet as a rainbow of flavors. Colorful fruits and vegetables can paint a beautiful picture of health because they contain phytonutrients, compounds that give plants their rich colors as well as their distinctive tastes and aromas.
Fruits and vegetables get their color from natural bioactive compounds which, in addition to lending eye-catching hues, also promote good health. It stands to reason that the most vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables are the richest in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.
The following shows just a few of the most common benefits we see with each color/phytochemical:
- Red (Lycopene) — Tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit keeps our heart healthy and decreases risk of stroke. Prevents and even fights cancer, especially prostate and breast It’s also good for stimulating memory!
- Orange/yellow (Carotenoids) — Foods such as summer squash and corn help reduce inflammation in the body and prevent cancer. Carotenoids also keep our immune system strong and our skin healthy.
- Green (Lutein) — Produce such as kale, spinach and bell peppers help protect our eyes by preventing cataracts and slowing age-related macular degeneration. They also contain folic acid, an important nutrient for having healthy babies. They can also help keep our bones, teeth and nails strong while helping prevent blood clots.
- Blue/purple (Anthocyanins) — Berries, currants, grapes, and some tropical fruits help us age gracefully by improving our memory and keeping our skin looking young. They also help reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of stroke and heart disease. They are also known to help fight cancers, especially those in the GI tract (mouth, esophagus, colon).
- White/tan (Allicin) — Garlic, onions, scallions and leeks help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They also help keep bones strong and healthy, and fight certain cancers.
Simply put, eating the rainbow involves eating fruits and vegetables of different colors every day. Studies show benefits from regularly eating colorful fruits and vegetables with virtually no downsides.
Grow your own
These days, more and more people are enjoying the benefits of food gardening. In fact, according to the National Gardening Association, nearly 1 in 3 Americans currently grows their own food.
As rural residents, we generally have more space to accommodate a garden. But you don’t have to dig a plot in the ground to grow your own fruits and vegetables. Whether you’d rather not plant in-ground or you have no yard at all, container gardening has several benefits over in-ground gardening. There’s no need for tilling, fancy irrigation or preparing the soil, and it’s easy to move pots around into the perfect position.
You can start a container garden almost anywhere: on your patio, deck, rooftop, or even kitchen counter. Whether it’s tomatoes, green beans, carrots, herbs, lettuce, strawberries or even pumpkins, growing your food is hugely satisfying and economical.
Whatever you decide to grow or buy, it’s fun to know more about these wonders of the food world, especially during National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month!
Here are some interesting and fun facts about produce:
Did you know?
- Watermelons are thick-skinned and contain roughly 92 percent water, so they can help keep you hydrated.
- Loaded with vitamins and minerals, with virtually no calories, fat or cholesterol, Brussels sprouts may be the healthiest veggie of them all.
- Broccoli contains more protein than steak. And because it contains no fat or cholesterol, broccoli provides all the protein we need with a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Apples give you more energy than a cup of coffee! Thanks to its high carbohydrate, vitamin and mineral content, apples help us stay energized all day.
- Tomatoes are fruits and vegetables. Botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit. However, an 1893 Supreme Court decision legally defines them as vegetables (since they are typically used in savory dishes).
- Avocados have a lot of health and beauty benefits, including ridding our throat and intestines of bacteria known to cause halitosis.
- Ripen fruit in a paper bag. Place the produce inside next to a banana to trap more of the ethylene gas released, ripening fruit faster.
- Skip the soap. The FDA recommends gently rubbing produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use additional soap or a specialized produce wash.
- The color of bell peppers changes the longer it is allowed to mature on the plant from green to yellow, orange and red. Green peppers taste the most bitter while red peppers are the sweetest.
- Fruit salad trees grow different fruits on one tree! It produces varieties of the same family, so a citrus tree can grow lemons, limes, and oranges. Or a stone fruit tree can produce peaches, plums and apricots.