By Mary Thoesen Coleman, MD, PhD, FAAFP
Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients and minerals needed for our body’s health. They provide lots of energy (bounce) for the amount you eat (ounce).
Fruits and Veggies are strong components of the Mediterranean diet, which in a number of research studies has been associated with decreased risk for cardiovascular disease.
In people who follow the Mediterranean diet, the good kind of cholesterol, HDL, increases, triglycerides reduce, and so do fasting blood sugar and blood pressure.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, plus nuts and seeds.
How much? We should eat more than 2 servings per meal of non-starchy vegetables (starchy vegetables such as potatoes, peas, and corn do not count) and 1- 2 servings per meal of fruit.
- A vegetable serving is ½ cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of raw vegetables.
- A fruit serving is one small fruit or ½ cup fruit juice or ¼ cup dried fruit.
Is fresh best?
The best choices of fruits and vegetables are those that are minimally processed, locally grown, and fresh.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are reasonable alternatives to fresh. Canned fruits and veggies are less beneficial due to loss of minerals and nutrients in processing and addition of salt and preservatives.
Such vegetables and fruit are also good sources of fiber.
MyPlate is the current nutrition guide published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. MyPlate is a visual reminder about the right mix of fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins.
Fruits and vegetables make up half of food on a meal plate, with veggies a greater proportion of the half than fruits.
Things I have learned:
- You can get too much of a good thing. Smoothies or juices made from fresh ingredients can concentrate too much of good thing. For example, juicers frequently add spinach to smoothies and blended juices but spinach is high in oxalates and when consumed frequently in concentrated form with low Calcium diet may put you at risk for kidney stones made from oxalates. (I believe I contributed to my own kidney stone experience by drinking too many juices packed with spinach and not having enough Calcium in my diet).
- If you drink too much fruit juice, you can elevate your blood sugar. In one of my patients with diabetes, making one change in his diet (eliminating fruit juices) brought his sugar from very poorly controlled to completely controlled.
- If you eat too many fruits, you can also elevate your blood sugar. One of my patients who was eating 12 bananas a day was unable to control her blood sugar despite high doses of medication until she lowered her banana intake.
- Fruit drinks (not fruit juices) do not have the nutrients present in fruit juices and typically add calories without being healthy choices.
Tips for adding veggies to your diet:
- Cut up fresh vegetables (I use different ones including asparagus, cabbage, mushrooms, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) and cook them in olive oil. Eat for breakfast, lunch, or supper. Olive oil is a healthy part of the Mediterranean diet and it helps to make the vegetables more filling.
- Cut up fresh vegetables and put them in plastic containers for lunch snacks. I like to cut up yellow and red peppers, radishes, cucumbers, and broccoli.
- Make a fun salad that includes lots of colorful veggies and fruits–several lettuce varieties (Romaine, butternut), arugula if available, nuts such as walnuts or pecans or pine nuts, pumpkin seeds or other seeds, fresh vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, red peppers, yellow peppers, radishes, green onions, a dash of blueberries or strawberries, maybe some coconut flakes or cilantro or parsley. If desired, add left-over cooked chicken or tuna. Mix with home-made dressing from extra virgin olive oil (1 part olive oil ), 3 parts vinegar (mostly white but some apple cider vinegar), 1-3 tsps. Dijon mustard, and black pepper.
- Fresh fruits make good desserts and I like to add to yogurt (a good source of Calcium and part of the Mediterranean diet) for a healthy dessert or to whipped cream without sugar.
Mediterranean diet-friendly options
Artichokes, arugula, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, celeriac, chicory, collard greens, cucumbers, dandelion greens, eggplant, fennel, kale, leeks, lemons, lettuce, mache, mushrooms, mustard greens, nettles, okra, onions (red, sweet, white), peas, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, purslane, radishes, rutabaga, scallions, shallots, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnips, zucchini.
Apples, apricots, avocados, cherries, clementines, dates, ﬁgs, grapefruits, grapes, melons, nectarines, olives, oranges, peaches, pears, pomegranates, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes.
Dr. Coleman is a physician in the Family Medicine Clinic at UMC and is the Marie Lahasky Chair and Professor for the Department of Family Medicine, Director of Community Health and Director of Rural Education at LSU Health New Orleans. To learn more about Family Medicine at UMC, visit http://www.umcno.org/familymedicine or call (504) 962-6363 to schedule an appointment.