You probably already know fruits and veggies are good for you, but do you know why?

Fruits and vegetables are crucial for maintaining overall well-being and preventing various diseases. They offer a wide range of benefits that extend from head to toe.  Eating enough fruits and vegetables every day is often overlooked as an effective dietary strategy to boost overall health.  In fact, most Canadians are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. In the latest Statistic Canada (2021) report, only 21.8% of surveyed Canadians reported eating fruits and veggies 5 or more times per day.  

Canada’s Food Guide and Half Your Plate recommends filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables as a simple, effective visual guide to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Check out some of the health benefits of fruits and vegetables below.

Heart Health

Heart disease is the 2nd leading cause of death in Canada. Health Canada acknowledges the role of eating fruits and vegetables to help reduce the risk of heart disease, supporting the health claim of “A healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits may help reduce the risk of heart disease”.  Research shows that eating more fruits and vegetables is associated with a progressive decrease in heart disease risk, with benefits peaking at eight servings (800 g) per day.

High intakes of total dietary fibre (at least 25-29 g fiber/day) from whole foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and legumes or pulses can help lower your blood pressure and improve overall heart health. How? A high fibre diet can reduce your bad cholesterol and triglycerides and help you to maintain a healthy weight. This in turn, can reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Many fruits and vegetables are also rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C and beta-carotene (a precursor for vitamin A). These antioxidants may prevent your arteries from being blocked, by reducing cholesterol and plaque buildup.  The nutrients found in fruits and vegetables have been associated with decreased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Reducing Cancer Risk

Cancer is the number 1 cause of death in Canada. 2 in 5 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime – this highlights the importance of continuous research in preventing and reducing cancer risk.  The World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF) concluded that there is strong evidence that foods containing dietary fibre decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.  A report by the WCRF and the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded that there was convincing evidence to support a protective effect of fruits and vegetables against many types of cancers. This conclusion was based on numerous case-control studies that showed that cancer patients consumed less fruit and vegetables than comparable control cancer-free groups.

While the evidence for links between individual cancers and fruits and vegetables is limited, WCRF recommends eating at least 30g fibre per day and at least five servings (400g) of a variety of non-starchy vegetables and fruit every day.  Eating fruits and vegetables have been associated with reduced risk of at least 14 different cancers, including head, neck, oesophageal, colorectal, stomach and some other types.  Many fruits and vegetables are rich in Vitamin C, Carotenoids, Isoflavones, and other potential anti-cancer agents which may be associated with reduced cancer risk.

Brain Health

The aging population in Canada means that there will be an ongoing increase in the number of people affected by dementia; it is forecasted that 1 million Canadians will have dementia by 2030.  After the age of 65, the risk of dementia approximately doubles every five years. Research shows that there are some risk factors that you can act on to reduce your risk, such as: being more active, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and limiting alcohol. Chronic health conditions including depression, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are linked to a higher risk of developing dementia. Adopting a healthy diet can reduce the risk of these chronic diseases, and offer protection against dementia.

Research has consistently found that adopting a healthy lifestyle, including eating at least 5 servings (400g) of non-starchy fruits and vegetables daily, can help lower dementia risk and delay its onset.  Fruits and vegetables are high in Vitamin E, B vitamins, vitamin K, vitamin A, and phytonutrients.  Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet, DASH diet and MIND diet (a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diet) are associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Each of these diets has its own set of recommendations but shares a common foundation: the importance of a variety of fruits and vegetables for overall health with the MIND diet specifically emphasizing leafy greens and berries. Some studies have suggested that antioxidants (such as phytonutrients, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin K, carotenoids), vitamin K and folate in fruits and vegetables, may help protect our brain.

Key take-aways

There are undeniable benefits of fruits and vegetables in maintaining your heart health, reducing your cancer risk, and preserving your brain health.  Embrace the power of fruits and vegetables as part of your healthy lifestyle.  By taking a small step to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet, you are taking a giant step towards overall health.

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