The Skinny on Fruits and Vegetables

By Dayna Winter, M.S., R.D., Best Life nutritionist

Fruits and vegetables are nutritional powerhouses. They’re an essential part of virtually every healthy-eating program, and integral to any successful weight loss plan. Numerous studies have shown that consuming plenty of produce protects against many forms of cancer, and diets rich in plant foods are also associated with a reduced risk for heart disease and many other age-related diseases.

Research also indicates that fruit and vegetables are an effective weight management tool. A study conducted at Northwestern University examined more than 70,000 women over 12 years and discovered that those with the highest daily fruit and vegetable intake were 24 percent less likely to become obese and 28 percent less likely to experience major weight gain than those who ate the least.

You’ll find different nutritional benefits in each type of fruit and vegetable. The color of the plant is a good indicator of what vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients your produce packs. A good rule to follow: Try to eat every color and you’ll cover your needs.

Asparagus, broccoli, green beans, kale, spinach and darker lettuces like romaine
Fruit: Honeydew melon, kiwi
What They Have: Lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health. Greens also often have beta-carotene, which acts as an antioxidant.

Artichokes, asparagus, celery, endive, garlic, mushrooms, onions, scallions
Fruit: Green apples, green pears
What They Have:
Cancer-fighting substances as well as flavonoids that protect against heart disease

Arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, Swiss chard, turnips, watercress
What They Have: Cancer-fighting compounds

Carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, winter squash
Fruit: Apricots, citrus fruit, mangoes, peaches, yellow cherries
What They Have: Bioflavonoids and antioxidants that may protect against cancer and heart disease

Red tomatoes and foods made with tomatoes, such as tomato sauce, juice, soup and salsa
Fruit: Pink grapefruit, and watermelon
What They Have: Vitamin C and lycopene; both powerful antioxidants that protect against disease

Eggplants, red beets, red cabbage
Fruit: Cranberries, plums, prunes, raisins, red apples, red cherries, red grapes, red pears, strawberries
What They Have: Anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants that help to prevent blood clots and may improve brain function

You know what to eat, but how much is enough? Here’s your guide:

Total Calories: 1,500 to 1,600
Fruit Servings: 2
Non-Starchy Vegetable servings*: 4

Total Calories: 1,700
Fruit Servings: 2
Non-Starchy Vegetable Servings: 5

Total Calories: 1,800 to 2000
Fruit Servings: 2
Non-Starchy Vegetable Servings: 6

Total Calories: 2,500 to 2,550
Fruit Servings: 3
Non-Starchy Vegetable Servings: 7

If you’re following the Best Life Program for Diabetes, here are your guidelines:

Total Calories: 1,500 to 1,700
Fruit Servings: 2
Non-Starchy Vegetable Servings: 6

Total Calories: Over 1,700 to 2,250
Fruit Servings: 2
Non-Starchy Vegetable Servings: 7

(*Does not include starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, and peas, which are part of your grain servings on The Best Life Diet.)

What’s a serving? A serving of fruit equals 1 medium size whole fruit, 1 cup of chopped fruit or berries, ½ cup of grapes, 2 tablespoons of dried fruit, or ½ cup of fruit juice. A serving of vegetables is 1 to 2 cups of leafy vegetables, ½ cup of chopped non-leafy vegetables, or ¾ cup of tomato juice.

As you can see, a serving isn’t all that big. In fact, hitting your produce quota each day is easy if you take a few steps to incorporate some fruits and veggies into your regular meals. For example, top your favorite cereal with a couple  tablespoons of dried fruit, and snack on a piece of fresh fruit midday. Crunch on a big garden salad at lunch, and enjoy a cup of sautéed vegetables with dinner, and you’re done. When you’re rushed, use pre-cut, pre-washed produce to save time.