Yes, Mom was right. She told you to eat your fruits and vegetables. She might not have known the full details of what modern nutrition science says about fruits and vegetables, but she definitely was on the right track.
Everything from cancer to heart disease to diabetes to obesity can be improved or delayed by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Yet, according to surveys done by the Centers for Disease Control and Kansas Department of Health and Environment, only approximately 19 percent of Ellis County adults eat enough fruits and vegetables -- which is at least five servings (or 3.5 to 4.5 cups) a day. That means 81 percent of adults in Ellis County are lacking adequate intake of these important foods. In fact, low fruit/vegetable intake is listed as one of this area's leading risk factors for premature death.
Fruits and vegetables are filled with all the vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy body, plus they contain thousands of phytochemicals that offer even more health benefits. Some of those phytochemicals are found in the pigment of the fruit or vegetable, so eating a variety of colors will help you get an even bigger variety of health benefits.
Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins. The B vitamins are necessary for normal function of the brain and nervous system and might help keep the cardiovascular system healthy. Vitamin C keeps your immune system working and keeps your skin and connective tissue strong. Vitamins A and E are antioxidants thata protect cells from damage and are important for normal vision. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting and strong bones.
Fruits and vegetables also contain many of the minerals you need, including calcium and iron found in dark-green leafy vegetables. Calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth, and iron helps transport oxygen to body cells. The magnesium and potassium in fruits and vegetables helps regulate blood pressure and keep muscles working.
Fruits and vegetables also supply dietary fiber, which often is deficient in a typical Western diet. You need high-fiber foods to keep your digestive system working normally and to help regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Eating high-fiber foods also helps keep you feeling full, which is good for losing or maintaining weight.
Science shows eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables correlates with a healthier heart, lower risk of cancer, better brain function and a longer life. But results are much less impressive when researchers look at individual vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals taken as dietary supplements. So, don't rely on pills to give you the nutrients you need. Instead, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal.
For more information, refer to the fact sheet "More Plants on the Plate" from K-State Research and Extension. Ask for it at the Ellis County Extension office, 601 Main in Hays, call (785) 628-9430 or find it online at www.ksre.ksu.edu.
Linda K. Beech is Ellis County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.