Everyone knows fruits and vegetables are essential to healthy eating, but Santa Ana dentist Dr. Kalantari wants to know if people know exactly why.  Plant-based foods offer a wealth of nutrients and minerals hard to find in other sources.  They are generally low in calories and can be eaten in a huge variety of ways.  To get a better understanding of these amazing foods, we will discuss why you should start incorporating more fruits and veggies into your diet.

Fruits and veggies often contain healthy amounts of dietary fiber.  Fiber is well-known for keeping the digestive system running smoothly.  It also has been shown to help with heart health.  Fiber is hard for the body to digest which makes it take up space in the digestive tract before it is eliminated.  This additional substance helps people feel fuller, longer.   For people trying to lose weight, this can help prevent overeating.  Additionally, most fruits and vegetables are low in calories further helping in any weight loss efforts.

Fruits and vegetables offer two types of fiber – soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.  Soluble fiber can be broken down by the digestive tract but is converted into something like a gel.  This slow-moving gel is what helps people to feel full.  Insoluble fiber cannot be broken down by the digestive tract at all and therefore helps prompt the body to move it out of the system.  This boosted movement helps to clear out food in a regular manner, preventing things from getting clogged up.  With the regular flushing of the digestive tract, bad bacteria and other unhealthy substances do not get a chance to linger in the body.  Beans, nuts, and cucumbers offer high amounts of soluble fiber, whereas dark, leafy vegetables and carrots provide large amounts of insoluble fiber.  A great thing about fruits and vegetables, however, is that often they provide both soluble and insoluble fiber for a one-two punch of health.

Fruits and vegetables are a major source of antioxidants as well.  According to researchers at Penn State University, antioxidants are able to eliminate harmful molecules called free-radicals.  These molecules have unpaired electrons.  Because electrons travel in pairs the unpaired electrons attempt to draw electrons from other sources.  However, in the body, the only other electrons to be found are already part of important molecules and body cells.  When the stray electrons pull on electrons from the body, the cells become damaged. Too much free radical activity can wreak havoc on what would have otherwise been healthy cells.  Antioxidants help fight free radicals by either providing them with a missing electron, therefore saving an important body cell from doing the task or they can even break apart free radical molecules so they can no longer cause damage.  The damage from free-radicals has been linked to many serious conditions including cancer, while treatments with antioxidants have actually reduced the rates of cancer and of the return of cancer.  Antioxidant rich fruits and veggies include blueberries, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, broccoli, spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

The last reason fruits and vegetables are essential is due to the huge range of vitamins and minerals they offer.  No other food group offers such a range of nutrients.  There are 13 essential vitamins which include Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, vitamin B3, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and Folate.  Minerals that are important to the body are sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium, and molybdenum.  The essential vitamins are the most important vitamins to maintain proper function, but all of them are needed to some degree to keep the body in tip-top shape.

Dark, leafy vegetables tend to be the more bitter food options you can choose, but they offer the greatest amount of vitamins and minerals all in one place.  There are many recipes available offering tips on how to make them taste great.  A helpful option is to chop them up and mix them in with pasta or a stir fry to get their vitamins but not feel like you’re simply chowing down on a meal of leaves. Broccoli, spinach, kale, collard greens all offer a wealth of important nutrients.  Not only offering vitamin A, E and K, they also contain calcium, magnesium, manganese, and iron which can be hard to find in other food.

Fruits such as oranges, pineapples, and grapefruit offer vital Vitamin C which promotes immunity.  Oranges also offer folate which is important for everyone but especially important to pregnant women.  Bananas offer potassium.  Carrots and sweet potatoes deliver vitamin A.  Avocados have a selection of B vitamins.

Certain fruits and vegetables, such as cranberries, can even offer antibacterial properties.  Doctors have long recommended drinking cranberry juice when someone has an infection as the properties in the berries can help to kill the invading bacteria.  Guava fruit also offers antibacterial properties.

Fruit and vegetables can be eaten on their own, cooked, sautéed, baked or they can be mixed in with other foods.  By mixing your fruits and vegetables into a meal, you can easily up your consumption and also increase the variety of fruits and vegetables you eat in a single meal.  The sweetness of fruit can be a great way to sweetly compliment a savory dish, while veggies can provide a refreshing lightness to otherwise heavy dishes.