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Last Updated on May 11, 2021
Fruits and vegetables are two of the healthiest food groups we can eat in our daily diet. These two food groups can lower the risk for many chronic health conditions, improve energy levels, and decrease the chance of becoming overweight and obese.
Overweight and obesity can increase the risk of many health conditions and can impact health and life insurance coverage and rates. As long as being overweight is your only health issue, life insurance for overweight individuals is easy to obtain. However, being overweight combined with other health issues can make insurance more costly and difficult to obtain.
Fruits and vegetables are nutrient powerhouses. They are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. Antioxidants and phytochemicals are health-boosting nutrients that are found in many fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Phytochemicals and Antioxidants
Phytochemicals are nutrients found in many plant foods that can act as antioxidants. They give color and flavor to plants. They also boost health by enhancing the immune system, reducing inflammation, preventing cellular damage, enhancing the metabolism of cholesterol, and decreasing blood clot formation.
Oftentimes, the terms phytochemicals and antioxidants are used interchangeably. Antioxidants are substances found in many different foods and beverages that boost health by preventing damage to the cells by free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that are a result of ultraviolet rays, exercise, pollution, smoking, and other body processes. They can cause oxidative stress and inflammation and damage the cells of the body. Antioxidants help neutralize or stabilize free radicals, so they help protect cells.
Phytochemicals and antioxidants may play a role in lowering the risk of many chronic conditions, including heart disease and some types of cancer. The most common antioxidants and phytonutrients include carotenoids, polyphenols, ellagic acids, and resveratrol.
Carotenoids include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. They serve as phytochemicals that can act as antioxidants and play a big role in healthy vision, eye health, and heart health. Orange and green vegetables are high in carotenoids.
Polyphenols include flavonoids, flavonols, anthocyanins, and flavones. They are thought to influence heart health and protect against certain types of cancer. Apples, green tea, onions, dark chocolate, and coffee are high in flavonoids.
Ellagic acid can also be considered in the polyphenol group. Ellagic acid can help reduce cholesterol levels and lowers the risk of some types of cancer. Berries, grapes, and some nuts are high in ellagic acid.
Resveratrol is also a polyphenol and is highest in grapes and red wine. This nutrient can help improve blood flow, enhance heart health, and has positive effects on brain health.
Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
The many different colors in fruits and vegetables represent the different phytochemicals and antioxidants those foods contain. Getting in the habit of eating a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables will boost your health in many ways.
Dark-green vegetables include spinach, kale, mustard greens, and collard greens. They are not only a good source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, but they also contain many vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, and vitamin K, needed for good health.
MyPlate recommends eating one to two cups of dark green vegetables weekly, depending on age and sex. Having a spinach salad for lunch or adding kale to a smoothie are great ways to get these dark green vegetables.
Yellow and Green
Avocados, corn, peas, kiwi, and honeydew melon contain phytochemicals that have some antioxidant properties. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoids found in yellow and green vegetables that are important for eye health and can prevent eye diseases.
Green and White
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage are another group of superfood vegetables. They are full of phytochemicals and antioxidants like carotenoids, plus a variety of vitamins and minerals like potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K.
Other green and white vegetables like green onions, white onions, and garlic also have phytochemicals like flavonoids. Onions and garlic are thought to prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Orange and Yellow
Orange vegetables are a great source of beta-carotene and include carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and pumpkin. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A by the body, which is important for healthy vision.
Other orange and yellow fruits and vegetables have other types of carotenoids that boost health in numerous ways. MyPlate recommends eating four to six cups of red and orange vegetables weekly, depending on age and sex.
Tomatoes, grapefruit, and watermelon are great sources of lycopene, which is a carotenoid. Lycopene is important for heart health and can be protective against certain types of cancer.
Many red fruits and vegetables also have vitamin C and potassium, which are important for a good immune system, fluid balance, and nerve and muscle function.
Red and Blue
Many berries, including strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, are a good source of anthocyanins, which are a type of flavonoid. Berries can help prevent inflammation in the body, which might also help lessen muscle soreness. Cherries and cranberries also have anthocyanins.
Beets, red bell peppers, red onions, and radishes are two other red vegetables with many phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Eat a Rainbow of Colors
It is always better to get your antioxidants and phytonutrients from foods over a supplement. The best way to do this is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Research does not show any health benefits from antioxidant or phytonutrient supplements.
Children should eat one to three cups of vegetables daily, depending on their age. Adults need two to three cups of vegetables daily, depending on sex and age. Enjoying at least a cup of vegetables with lunch and dinner can help meet our daily vegetable needs.
It’s also helpful to look at consuming dark green and red and orange vegetables on a weekly basis, instead of daily. This could mean eating a sweet potato for dinner twice a week, snacking on red bell peppers a few days a week, eating a spinach salad with lunch three days a week, and having other colorful vegetables with snacks and all meals.
Most people need one to two cups of fruit daily. This can easily be met by eating fruit at breakfast, as a snack, or as dessert. Whole fruits that are fresh or frozen are the most nutritious. Canned fruit, dried fruit, and fruit juice are usually higher in sugar, lower in nutrients, and should be limited.
Colorful fruits and vegetables have many other health benefits besides lowering the risk of chronic diseases. Some may influence mood, help with weight management, or boost energy levels, and can even help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Eating a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables not only gives you the antioxidants and phytochemicals that will boost health but also includes fiber and numerous vitamins and minerals.
Melissa Morris writes for the life insurance comparison site, EffortlessInsurance.com. She has an MS in exercise science, is an ACSM certified exercise physiologist, and an ISSN certified sports nutritionist.