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By Minda Parsons, MA, ACSM, CHES , 21st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron
/ Published March 01, 2022
March is National Nutrition Month. Adding fruits and vegetables into your daily diet is an excellent way to get essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. Incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables also feeds the good strains of bacteria in the gut, which positively influences our health. (DeCA courtesy photo Robert Lunetta)
When the month of March rolls around, our minds begin to think about the beginning of spring, daylight saving time and the hope for warmer weather. Additionally, March represents National Nutrition Month. It is commonly known that we should try to make half our plate’s fruits and vegetables, but it is less commonly known why.
Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. For example, berries provide a great source of antioxidants and fiber where peas contain fiber, protein, thiamin, zinc and vitamin k. Beyond vitamins, minerals and fiber, fruits and vegetables are a great source of phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are compounds produced by plants. These include lycopene, indoles, carotenoids, anthocyanins and anthoxanthins. Phytonutrients are found in varying plant foods and provide benefits to our health. Watermelon is one of many sources of lycopene, broccoli is one of many sources of indoles and both may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancers. Pumpkins, are a source of carotenoids which help maintain healthy mucus membranes and eyes. Blueberries are a great source of anthocyanins and can help reduce the risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. Bananas and potatoes contain anthoxanthins which may reduce the risk of stomach cancer and heart disease as well as aid in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. These are all just a few examples.
Incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables also feeds the good strains of bacteria in the gut, which positively influences our health. The gut microbiome is a community of bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeast that live in the gastrointestinal tract. Our gut microbiome can influence the immune system, produce neurotransmitters and affect digestion, absorption, sleep, appetite, mood and so much more.
As the gut microbiome is closely related to our health, it is critical to feed and nurture it. One of the best way to do so is through a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Low levels or an absence of the good bacteria strain of Akkermansia Muciniphila is associated with the metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, IBD fatty liver and hypertension. However, polyphenol rich foods such as pomegranate can be influential in raising Akkermansia Muciniphila levels.
At the root of it all, what is important is to incorporate a wide variety of fruits and vegetables into our daily diets. Fruits and vegetables benefit one’s health in a variety of different ways. Additionally, since they are low in calories and high in fiber, they can assist with weight loss and weight maintenance.
There are four ways to reap the benefits of daily fruits and vegetables.
First, eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This means eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables from each of the color groups, i.e., red, green, orange/yellow, white, blue/purple.
Second, choose whole fruits and vegetables avoiding processed, juiced or smothered options.
Third, do not shy away from frozen options. Shopping in the frozen aisle can be great for eating on a budget or extending shelf life.
Finally, prepare your fruits and vegetables in ways that you enjoy. Have fun and experiment. Do you like certain fruits or vegetables raw? How about roasted, steamed, microwaved, or masked in a main meal?
Bottom line, you should enjoy your fruits and vegetables.
To learn more about fruits and vegetables or healthy eating, reach out to Peterson Space Force Base Health Promotions registered dietitians at 719-556-4292, and have a great National Nutrition Month.