Fruits and vegetables carry an array of incredible health-boosting benefits. Yet, according to research from the CDC, only 1 in 10 adult Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables to reach federal guidelines. This can lead to an array of chronic health conditions like diabetes or heart disease.
There are plenty of reasons why we aren’t getting our five a day: ultra-processed foods are usually cheaper and more readily available than fresh produce and many folks live in food deserts where fruit and vegetable options are extremely limited at best.
But, for many people, the issue is simple: we don’t realize how much better we’ll feel after eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, or we don’t know how to prepare fresh produce to make it taste as good, or even better than, convenience food.
Here are a few examples of the health power behind fruit and vegetables, plus a few tips on how to grow your own produce.
Most people understand that fruits and vegetables are good for them. But, fewer of us understand what fruits and veggies can do for our physical well-being.
According to Harvard Health, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of heart diseases, prevent cancers, and improve our bodies’ ability to regulate blood sugar levels. This means that eating fruits and vegetables can improve our health in the short term and long term, as a lifestyle centered around leafy greens, berries, and citruses can improve our mood and help stave off chronic conditions.
Eating fruits and vegetables is also essential if you want to live an active lifestyle, as you need a diet that will fuel you. Processed, sugar-rich, foods will not sustain strenuous activities like running or swimming, as your body will burn through the energy provided by sugar too quickly. Whereas, foods like apples and bananas take far longer to break down, and provide a more steady source of energy.
Gut health plays a vital role in our overall well-being. A healthy gut hosts microorganisms and is comprised of bacteria, viruses, and fungi which all support your immune system and make your gastrointestinal tract unique. When our gut health takes a dive, we can expect all kinds of issues from bloating to autoimmune conditions which threaten long-term health.
Your diet plays a key role in maintaining and improving your gut health. Eating whole foods that are fiber-rich and fermented can be a great solution for folks experiencing mild gut issues. For example sauerkraut — fermented cabbage — may work well to alleviate bloating and improve the balance of your gut’s microbiome.
Of course, if you’re experiencing chronic gut issues you should always speak to a medical professional. Many people develop digestive issues as they age, and you may not be able to discover the source of your gut issues alone. But, for more mild symptoms, increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables is a great place to start, and may improve other areas of your well-being like your mental health.
Our diet has a profound impact on our mood, mental health, and the stress-related conditions that many of us suffer from in modern society. A poor diet comprised of sugary, processed foods will cause fluctuations in your mood and negatively impacts your ability to focus. Conversely, whole foods like fresh fruit and vegetables have an array of mental health benefits.
There are plenty of fresh foods that can boost your cognitive ability and improve your mental health. Among the best are berries, which contain antioxidants that reduce stress and inflammation in your body and may delay the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Citruses are also great for your mental health, as they contain vitamin C which may improve decision making, focus, and memory retention.
Gardening at Home
One of the best ways to ensure that you eat enough fruits and vegetables is to grow your own at home. There are few joys in life as sweet as a freshly plucked tomato or lettuce pulled straight from your own vegetable patch. You can grow fresh fruit and vegetables year-round (turnips and Brussels sprouts do well in winter) and you’re unlikely to let your produce go to waste.
When sewing your fruits and vegetables, be sure to plan ahead and organize your garden so that it is accessible and safe for everyone. If you have children or pets, do not leave fertilizer lying around, and consider a raised bed so dogs don’t eat vegetables that may make them ill.
If you only have limited space, you can still grow fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and strawberries, as many varieties have been bred specifically to fit in small places and don’t require staking or support to grow a modest, but tasty, crop.
Regularly eating fruits and vegetables is a great way to improve your physical and mental health. The vitamins and antioxidants you get from fresh produce will help you feel your best, and can help reduce your chances of developing chronic illnesses. If you really want to kickstart a healthy eating habit, consider growing your fruits and vegetables at home, as you’re unlikely to let your harvests go to waste, and will see a dramatic increase in your overall intake of leafy greens and tasty fruits.
Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, and fitness-related content. When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.
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