As a person who is (or at least is trying to be) health conscious, I have discovered that besides an active lifestyle with plenty of physical exercise, one of the most simple and radical things that I can do to improve my health is to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in the proper proportions.
Yes, we've all heard this before, but actually doing it and experiencing the benefits are another thing all together. As a mom who is pregnant with her second child, it has been especially important for me explore this question, wanting to eat extra well for my little one in the womb. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that may help protect you from chronic diseases.
From the CDC's Fruit and Veggies Matter Web site:
Compared with people who consume a diet with only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts as part of a healthful diet are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases, including stroke and perhaps other cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers.
And the Women's Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine goes on to say that 30 percent of cancer deaths in the US population can be attributed to diet. Low consumption of fruits and vegetables--among other lifestyle-related factors such as smoking, excessive sun exposure, alcohol consumption and lack of exercise--is linked to an increased incidence of cancer.
I love that food is actually a medicine and when used properly is an important part of preventive health. The CDC also urges one to think about color and variety when planning their diet. Simply, since different colors of fruits and veggies contain a variety of nutrients and anioxidants (the cancer-fighting agents), using the color wheel as a guide for your diet is a plan for better health. Make an effort to try new fruits and veggies whenever possible as well. Challenge the American "meat at the center of the plate" model.
Easy menu alternatives include meals like eggplant parmesan or spaghetti squash marinara. If you are a parent struggling with getting your little ones to consume enough of this food group, try keeping veggies frozen when you serve them (cut up when necessary) or introducing tasty salads very early on in childhood to encourage good life-long nutrition habits. Amazingly, my two-year old loves salads and seems to regard them as a normal part of what we eat as a family. Taking small steps in this area is a simple way to live longer and enjoy a new level of health and well-being.