And Good Health
Hardly a day goes by that I donít read how eating whole grains, fruits, or vegetables lower the risk of some type of degenerative disease. For example, recently I read that fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of oral precancerous lesions in tobacco users. I also read a study showed that just one additional daily serving of fruit or vegetables a day lowers the risk of heart disease and a greater consumption afforded greater protection.
In another study researchers found that the risk of stroke was 31 percent lower in women who consumed five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day. In still another study those who ate legumes at last four times a week had a 22% lower risk of heart disease over those who consumed legumes only once a week. Those who ate the most legumes also had lower blood pressure and total cholesterol, and were less likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.
The evidence is so strong that researchers are now suggesting that we try to eat nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Few of us, however, eat this much produce. A recent survey reported that only 19 percent of men and 26 percent of women in the US eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day. If people are not eating fruits and vegetables what are they eating? Most likely lots of processed, packaged foods that have been stripped of most of their nutrients.
Why are whole grains, fruits, and vegetables so good for us? The answer is because they contain the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that nourish our bodies, protect us from disease, and keep us healthy. Phytonutrients are chemicals produced in plants that have vitamin-like characteristics. One of these is beta-carotene. Beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant and helps protect us from cancer and heart disease. It can also be converted in vitamin A if the body needs it. Beta-carotene gives carrots, squash, and other vegetables there characteristic yellow and orange colors. Lycopene is another phytonutrient that has gained recognition lately for itís ability to lower risk of prostate cancer. It produces the red pigment in tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit. There are over 20,000 phytonutrients that have been identified in plant foods.
In the past, individual vitamins and minerals were thought to be adequate in curing health problems. We now know that while a single nutrient may be helpful, a variety of nutrients working together provide the greatest benefit. Nutrients work together in concert like a philharmonic orchestra producing music. All of the instruments are needed to produce the right sound. Likewise, a wide variety of nutrients are needed, in the proper proportion, like that found in whole foods, to provide the health benefits scientists see in nutritional studies.
Weíve been told for years to eat more calcium to protect our bones from osteoporosis. We eat more calcium than ever before yet, osteoporosis is still a growing problem. We now know that calcium alone isnít going to do it. You can eat calcium tablets until your are blue in the face and it wonít have much effect on your bones unless you also include other nutrients. Researchers are now saying potassium, magnesium, boron, silicon, beta-carotene, and vitamins C, D, and K are also necessary. A deficiency in any one of these could affect bone health.
This is why it is better to eat food containing hundreds of phytochemicals than take a vitamin tablet which only has a dozen or so. This is why it is better to eat whole wheat bread with all its natural phytonutrients than it is to eat white bread which is enriched with a mere five. This is why herbs are often so effective. Herbs are food too and contain many healing phytonutrients.