Fruits and vegetables offer up natural plant compounds that help keep the body healthy, and variety is key.
If you’re not a big fan of vegetables, you might think that you can make up for it by eating lots of fruit. It’s easy to see why – we almost always mention them in the same breath (“eat plenty of fruits and veggies!”) and, since they’re healthy plant foods, it’s natural to assume that they’re more or less interchangeable in terms of providing the nutrients the body needs.
And to some extent that’s true. You can get your vitamin C just as easily from berries as from broccoli; potassium lurks in both beetroot and bananas. But fruits and veggies also offer up a dizzying (and varied) array of phytonutrients – natural plant compounds that can promote good health. So getting the broadest range of phytonutrients is a lot more likely if you’re eating both fruits and vegetables.
Phytonutrients are responsible for the flavours and colours in fruits and vegetables. And when you think about fruits and vegetables more from the standpoint the huge range of flavours and hues they provide – and not so much as simply sources of vitamins and minerals – you can begin to appreciate how dissimilar they really are.
Berries and broccoli, for example, may look similar when it comes to their vitamin C content, but their phytonutrient profiles couldn’t be more different. Berries get their red-purple colour from compounds called anthocyanins – which are a lot more widespread in fruits than in vegetables. On the other hand, isothiocyanates are the phytonutrients responsible for the strong odours found in broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower – but you won’t find these smelly compounds in fruits. Another natural pigment, lycopene, gives a rich red colour to fruits like tomato (yes, it’s a fruit), pink grapefruit and guava, but you’d be hard-pressed to find much in most vegetables.
I meet plenty of people who assume that eating fruits OR vegetables are just as good as eating fruits AND vegetables – so I use often use these examples to encourage them to get more variety in the diet. If this sounds like you, think of the hurdles in your way and how you might get over them.
Fewer people like fruits rather than veggies, and it’s often an issue of texture. If you don’t like the soft texture of ripe fruit, try whirling fresh or frozen fruit in the blender and add to smoothies or use as a topping on cottage cheese or yogurt. If some fruits are too tart for you, try the sweetest varieties – tangerines, for example, are often sweeter than most oranges.
If you don’t like the texture of cooked veggies, try them raw. If strong flavours keep you from eating veggies, play around with seasonings – like herbs, garlic or citrus. You can also ‘sneak’ them into soups, pasta sauces and casseroles. Or, cook them until tender and crisp, then chill and toss into a salad – that way you won’t pick up their strong odours in the steam.
One final warning from my own mistakes! Beware that fruit is a source of sugar, all be it natural sugar. It needs to be consumed mindfully to not compromise your weight or digestive health, especially bloating.
Watch out for my next blog where I will give you the low down on fruit in detail, and what to eat and when for weight management and digestive health.