Why are fruit and vegetables so good for us?
Fruit and vegetables have the following benefits to offer:
- They are packed with essential vitamins and minerals: You need to obtain essential vitamins and minerals from your diet as your body can’t make them. These are vital for many bodily processes. Some of the vitamins are also classed as antioxidants, including vitamin C and vitamin E which help to protect your cells from damaging free radicals. These are particularly beneficial for the cells of our skin and blood vessels. The acerola cherry is a particularly high source of vitamin C and contains natural bioflavonoids which help to support the absorption of this important antioxidant
- They are high in dietary fibre: Dietary fibre helps support the health of your digestive system and is particularly effective in helping with constipation and in some cases irritable bowel syndrome, (IBS). Fibre also helps in blood sugar regulation and potentially weight management
- They can help lower the risk of disease and even death: This is becoming more readily accepted, although, we are continually trying to better understand what amounts are required to achieve such positive effects and the benefits certain types of fruit or veggies can have over others. New benefits are constantly being uncovered as we conduct more research.
Most of you should be aware that you should aim to eat five 80g portions of fruit or vegetables every day. But this a minimum recommendation, with an ‘adequate quantity’ of 400g per day being set as it is considered to be an achievable target... but, should you actually be eating even more? Are there additional benefits to be aware of?
Possibly so! Research has suggested that eating as many as seven to ten portions of fruit and vegetables every day can have additional benefits and it seems the more portions you eat - the greater the health benefits.
As well as the direct health benefits of eating your ‘5-a-day’, by incorporating fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet it is likely you are replacing unhealthier options with these nutrient-packed choices. By opting for fresh fruit and vegetables you are more likely to be consuming less processed dishes and therefore less refined carbohydrates, sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.
In recent years we have become obsessed by a category of foods called superfoods. Superfoods often fall into the fruit and veg category and are regarded to be ‘especially beneficial for health or wellbeing.’ As with most fruit and vegetables, superfoods contain vitamins and minerals which we need. However, these foods are special in that they often contain particularly high amounts or an impressive array of essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants packed in the one remarkable food.
As a result of their unique nutritional composition, superfoods have often been used traditionally in natural medicine and are frequently subject to research as it is believed they can offer some therapeutic effect (for example sulforaphane found in broccoli sprouts) beyond that of your average fruit or vegetable. Therefore, they can be a nice addition to your daily diet as many people are discovering.
These foods are examples of our advances in understanding how different types of fruit or vegetable can offer additional health benefits in comparison to others. Exciting!
What are the long-term benefits of eating more fruit and veg?
The long-term benefits of consuming adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables are well established. The protective effect of fruit and vegetables on cardiovascular disease has been shown in many large scale studies. Some studies have shown a modest reduction in the risk of certain types of cancer but the results in this area are less clear. Consumption has also been shown to help reduce the risk of general death (all-cause mortality).
Generally, the risk of death in all categories decreases as the number of portions increases. This means the more fruit and vegetables you pack in the more you can reap the benefits!
Another important observation is that it appears that vegetables are more protective than fruit. In an analysis of Health Survey for England data1, the order of protective effects from most to least was: vegetables, salad, fresh fruit and finally dried fruit. Frozen and canned fruit were not found to be significantly protective.
The study also showed that the positive effects were independent of other dietary factors meaning the positive effects appeared to be down to the fruit and vegetables themselves rather than being as a result of the subjects consuming less unhealthy choices – interesting!
Although the exact mechanisms for the protective effects of fruit and vegetables aren’t always clear cut, the fibre, potassium, magnesium, folate, antioxidants (including vitamin C, vitamins E and carotenoids and flavonoids), sugar (being low) and flavonoid content in particular are thought to have a pivotal role in exerting such positive effects.
Are there any shorter-term benefits?
There is sufficient research out there for us to agree that the consumption of fruit and vegetables over a lifetime can have beneficial outcomes in terms of disease and death – but generally we assume we have to wait years to feel the benefits.
However, a new study2 has sparked some interest as it supports the proposal that the consumption of fruit and vegetables may also be favourable in the short-term rather than just over longer periods of time – they could be making you happier!
This study was conducted on 12,000 people over a period of 2 years and adds some value to a small set of data already out there suggesting fruit and vegetable intake is positively associated with our mental wellbeing. As the study was conducted over a period of 2 years, it makes it appropriate to assume that the positive effects were apparent before any of the long-term health benefits were evident such as the relative risk on disease or mortality.
This is an exciting prospect; it means that the benefits of consuming fruit and vegetables may be seen much quicker than previously assumed and the positive effects may be reaching new areas of your body such as the brain.
Scores of life satisfaction were found to gradually increase as the consumption of fruit and vegetables did. If we reconsider the recommended portions of fruit and vegetables – it gives us reason to believe that those five portions can definitely be considered ‘adequate’ but look at what happens if you eat up to eight! Those veggies are sounding quite appealing now!
What is it in plants that could be making us happy?
So is it possible, fruit, vegetables and superfoods can affect your mental wellbeing? It’s looking likely! Fruit and vegetables contain an array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which can have effects on many parts of the body, including the brain.
The Mediterranean diet has long been known as one of the healthiest ways to eat. This diet is associated with a particularly high consumption of fruit and vegetables and healthy fats. Research has shown3 that people on the highest third of Mediterranean diet versus those on the lowest have a 98% reduced risk of suffering from depression. It is thought that the healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in the nuts, seeds and fish which are readily consumed (as opposed to saturated fats from meat) is thought to have some impact. The flavonoids and B vitamins from the copious amounts of fruit, vegetables and legumes are also thought to have significant effects on low mood.
It is important to mention that certain herbs are also effective in supporting our mood, such as St. John’s wort (Hypericum). St. John’s wort has an active ingredient called hyperforin which has positive effects on neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin (this is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter). Flavonoids in Hypericum support the uptake and action of hyperforin and this is a lovely example of how constituents of whole plants work in synergy to exert positive effects on our health.
Does fresh really matter?
It is worth mentioning that fruit and vegetables in their different states may be more beneficial than others. We believe fresh is always best (we pride ourselves in taking this approach in our very own products) and opt for organic too wherever possible.
Tinned fruit and vegetables, although not as badly affected as canned pasta or soups, are more likely to be contaminated with a chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA) due to their packaging. Early exposure to BPA has been linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression in later in life as it interacts with hormones in the body. So, try and opt for the fresh options wherever possible and get experimental by incorporating them into a variety of tasty dishes.
Tips and recipes for upping your intake!
So how can you begin increasing your consumption of fruit and vegetables and in a bid to feel happier!? We include some hassle-free, veggie-packed recipes below for you to try out:
1. Oyebode et al. (2014) Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health survey for England data. J Epidemiol Community Health, doi:10.1136/jech-2013-203500
2. Mujcic and Oswald (2016) Evolution of well-being and happiness after increases in the consumption of fruit and vegetables. Am J Public Health, 106(8): 1504-10
3. Skarupski, K.A. et al. (2013) Mediterranean diet and depressive symptoms among older adults over time. 17(5): 441-445