We all know we should eat more fruit and vegetables. The NHS recommends five a day, as we know. The US Centre for Disease Control now reckons seven. Whatever the number, the facts are incontrovertible – fruit and veg are good for you.
Here’s the thing about plants. They take their energy directly from the sun. That same sun energy is what you metabolise, when you eat meat: only by the time it gets into your belly via a nice juicy steak, the energy has been attenuated. In other words, you have to eat a lot more meat to get the same amount of basic energy as you’ll get from munching on greenery.
It isn’t only green stuff that gives the go-ahead to your metabolism. Different coloured fruit and veg tend to have their colourings because they contain specific vitamins, minerals or phytochemicals (a posh word for the compounds you find in vegetation). Many of these compounds are thought to have specific health benefits, for example boosting your body’s immune system or statistically lowering your chances of developing a certain type of cancer.
Red vegetables and fruits contain lycopene, which is cited as a statistical lowerer of lung and prostate cancer rates. Lycopene is more active after the food has been processed or cooked, so a tomato-based Bolognese is potentially better for you than a raw tomato…
Green vegetables, particularly darker green and rougher vegetables, contain a heady mixture of cancer fighting compounds, including sulfurophane. Sulfurophane is known to disassemble some carcinogenic compounds before they have a chance to do harm. Green veg also contains plenty of B vitamins, plus lutein – a phytocompound statistically present in people with a lowered risk of heart disease or strokes.
Orange fruit and veg are another set of cancer fighters. Beta carotene (the substance that makes orange things orange) is thought to forestall the development of stomach, esophagal and lung cancers. Orange fruit and veg are also thought to raise the function of the immune system.
Note that Vitamin C is not necessarily the compound fully responsible for heightened immune system activity. Vitamin C does raise the body’s ability to fight minor infections, but only to a limited degree – because the body metabolises and gets rid of it before it has a chance to have a prolonged effect. Hyper strength Vitamin C tablets therefore only have a slightly stronger immune-strengthening effect than standard doses.
White fruit and veg, including onions and leeks, are packed with the ability to lower blood pressure. Onions and garlic may also diminish the risk of stomach cancer, thanks to the presence of allicin. The potentially health-giving properties of onions and garlic are heightened by allowing the juices to ripen before cooking. Slice or crush and leave for three to five minutes before you add to your pan.
Purple’s not just a colour for wearing when you get older. It also completes the royal flush of super fruit and veg colours. The purple in grapes, kale and figs comes from a family of compounds called anthocyanins, which are believed to help fight blood clotting and to lower cancer risk.
Add some colour to your food life, and reap the benefits on the inside.