It's important to eat healthy
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating more fruits and vegetables than any other food group. You should strive to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients our bodies need and provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber and a variety of phytonutrients (plant chemicals) that may play a role in preventing certain diseases.
Fruits and vegetables also contain water, which helps keep you hydrated. They are high in fiber, which improves digestion and helps you feel full. Fiber also helps you use the energy from your food for a longer period of time, reducing the feelings of hunger.
Fruits and vegetables contain important nutrients that are essential for an overall healthy body. Examples of some of these nutrients are:
Calcium: Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth. It is also needed for normal functioning of muscles and nerves
Fiber: Meal plans high in dietary fiber can decrease risk of coronary heart disease, among other things
Iron: Iron is needed for healthy blood and normal cell function
Magnesium: Magnesium is necessary for healthy bones and is involved with more than 300 enzymes in your body. Inadequate levels may result in muscle cramps and high blood pressure
Potassium: Meal plans rich in potassium may help to maintain a healthy blood pressure
Vitamin A: Keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps protect against infections
Vitamin C: Helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy
Fruits and vegetables also contain phytonutrients, a broad term used for a wide variety of compounds produced by plants. Each phytonutrient comes from a variety of different plant sources and has different proposed effects on, and benefits for, the body.
By eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, you will provide your body with a wide variety of theses beneficial compounds, called phytonutrients. A few phytonutrients that you may have heard of include:
Beta-Carotene: Found in orange and dark leafy green vegetables. Research suggests beta-carotene benefits your immune system, vision, skin and bone health
Lycopene: Found in tomatoes, red peppers, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Studies show lycopene may help protect against prostate cancer and promote heart health
Lutein: Can be found in collards, kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, and artichokes. Research suggests lutein can help promote eye and heart health
Resveratrol: Can be found in peanuts, red wine and grapes. Studies suggest resveratrol can help benefit heart and lung health and reduce inflammation
Anthocyanidins: Can be found in berries, plums, red onions, radishes and strawberries. Anthocyanidins may help promote blood vessel health
Isoflavones: Found in soybeans. May help lower cholesterol, decrease joint inflammation and improve bone health
We know how important fruits and vegetables are, so let’s go shopping. When buying your fruits and vegetables, don’t forget about your local farmers market. The fruits and vegetables at farmers markets are the freshest and ripest available — no long distance shipping or sitting in storage and they are fresh from the farm.
Shopping at farmers markets also helps support your local farmers and community. Farmers markets offer more than just food; they also offer cooking demonstrations along with recipes to help you cook the fruits and vegetables you buy.
Attending a farmers market can make grocery shopping a much more enjoyable experience. Walking around an outdoor market can be a great stress reliever and a great way to connect with your community. Be sure to check out the Lenoir County Farmers Market, 100 N. Heritage Ave., in Kinston.
No matter where you buy your fruits and vegetables, just remember how important it is to choose them daily. They add color, crunch and flavor to your meals and snacks. Also remember every time you choose to eat fruits and vegetables, your body is smiling on the inside.
Holly White, RD, LDN, CDE | Dietitian