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Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs (www.phlabs.org), a national non-profit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. She is also the author of Minerals:  The Forgotten Nutrient – Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy 

You might recall your parents telling you to “eat your fruits and vegetables” as a child. And if you have children of your own, you probably exhort them to do the same.  But do you eat your fruits and vegetables?  And does it really matter when you start to eat them?

The answer in an unequivocal YES! In fact, it turns out that getting enough fruits and vegetables is just as important – if perhaps not even more so – for young adults and those approaching middle age than for children and teens.

Why do many younger adults forget about fresh fruits and vegetables and turn instead to fast food, supplements, frozen food and restaurant dining?  The reasons are probably as varied as the people who give them and are likely to include a lack of time, convenience, and misunderstanding of the value of fruits and vegetables.

I can’t do much about giving people more time or making their trips to the market more convenient, but I can help them better understand the benefits of increasing fresh, whole fruits and vegetables in their diets.  So here are some key things to consider before choosing a calorie-dense, nutrient-light food.

Consider Fruits and Veggies an Investment Toward Your Future Health

We live in an “I want it now” world that tends to focus on immediate gratification rather than long-term benefits.  And eating more fruits and vegetables now may not bring immediate or noticeable health benefits.  But studies have clearly shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables when they are younger have lower cardiovascular mortality when they are older.

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In fact, one study found that improved diet over a 12-year period was associated with reduced risk of death in the following 12 years.  Other research has shown that swapping just one serving of red or processed meat for a serving of beans was linked to an 8%-17% reduction in risk of death.  On the other hand, poor diets were associated with a 6%-12% increase in death. Fruits and vegetables are the foundations of a healthy diet.

Remember Critical Minerals in Fruits and Vegetables are Key for Good Health

Most people are aware of the vitamins in fruits and vegetables. For example, oranges are full of vitamin C, carrots are full of vitamin A, and green leafy vegetables are a great source of vitamin K.  What many people are not aware of, however, is fruits and vegetables are perhaps one of the most significant sources of minerals.  Minerals are critical nutrients that our bodies need to prevent disease and are essential to long-term health.

Briefly, minerals are one of the six essential nutrients that our bodies need to function.  Unfortunately, most people, including many health care professionals, tend to overlook the critical role minerals play in helping us get and stay healthy. Minerals have important functions in every single cell of our bodies, and many diseases can be traced to some type of mineral deficiency.

You can learn more about the importance and role of minerals in getting and staying healthy in a book Proactive Health Labs recently published titled Minerals:  The Forgotten Nutrient – Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy.    The book covers 14 key minerals, talks about the role of minerals in combatting or managing common diseases and medical issues, and offers helpful, healthy eating tips.

 

How you get the minerals, your body needs is just as important as getting them in the first place.  While it may be tempting to just take a supplement in the morning and think you’re meeting your body’s mineral needs, you most likely are not.  In fact, it’s always better to get your vitamins, minerals and other nutrients through food rather than taking supplements since the natural forms are generally utilized more efficiently by your body.  But some people may have difficulty absorbing certain minerals from foods.  So, if your doctor recommends taking supplements, make sure to get them from a reliable source.

Know Your Mineral Levels and Adjust Your Diet Accordingly

You may have noticed that I have not given any guidelines on what levels of minerals you may need and which fruits and vegetables are best for you. While the USDA and other government entities routinely publish nutrition guidelines that include minerals, the reality is that your needs may be very different from someone else’s.

Even if you are a healthy eater, you still may have mineral deficiencies that could impact your future health.  And, if you do, they may be very hard to detect since the symptoms can be vague and not very specific.  And keep in mind that it may take 20 years or more before you notice and feel the true negative health effects of not getting enough of the right minerals.  It is therefore very important you get nutritional testing to be able to make dietary and lifestyle changes to keep your minerals at optimal levels. And if you have children, understanding, and testing for deficiencies during childhood is also important since these mineral deficiencies can lead to several developmental disorders or impairments.

Maximize the Value of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

With the incredible variety and forms of fruits and vegetables available, getting enough of them to meet your mineral and other nutritional needs does not have to be boring or tedious.  To get the most out of them, the USDA recommends that half of your plate should be fruits and veggies which come out to about two cups of fruits and between two and three cups of vegetables a day.

Another way to enhance the benefits – and enjoyment – of fruits and vegetables is to eat a wide variety of them.  Indulge your creative and artistic sides and play with colors and textures.  Try mixing dark green with orange vegetables or citric and sweet fruits (just be careful of fruits with high sugar such content such as bananas and figs).  Depending on where you live, you can take your creativity to the next level and try your hand at gardening.   You may be surprised at how much fun it is – and there is an enormous sense of accomplishment in growing some of the food you and your family eat.

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Be careful, as well, with how much juice you and your family drink.  Reports indicate that many children and younger adults think drinking juice is enough.  The reality is that most fruit juices are loaded with sugar and don’t offer the other dietary benefits, such as fiber, that whole fruits have.  If you’re going to buy juice in the store, make sure it’s 100 percent juice with nothing added.  You may be better off juicing your own fruits and vegetables at home.   Oh, and not to burst your bubble, but tossing some fruit on top of ice cream with hot fudge and whipped cream doesn’t count as a fruit serving!