According to a recent survey, the number of American adults who say they are eating 'pretty much whatever they want' is at an all-time high, which unfortunately includes too few fruits and vegetables, as well as too little variety. Half of all fruit servings are taken up by just six foods: orange juice, bananas, apple juice, apples, grapes and watermelons. Only five foods—iceberg lettuce, frozen potatoes, fresh potatoes, potato chips, and canned tomatoes—make up half of all vegetable servings. We are not only eating too few fruits and vegetables, we are also missing out on the healthiest fruits, which are berries, and the healthiest vegetables, which are dark green leafies.
Why does dietary diversity matter? As I discuss in my video Specific Receptors for Specific Fruits and Vegetables, different foods may affect different problems. Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are associated with lower risk of colon cancer in the middle and right side of our body, whereas risk of colon cancer further down on the left side of our body appears to be better lowered by carrots, pumpkins and apples. So, different fruits and vegetables may confer different risks for cancer, of different parts of even the same organ.
Variety is the spice of life—and may prolong it. Independent from quantity of consumption, variety in fruits and vegetables may decrease lung cancer risk, meaning if two people eat the same number of fruits and vegetables, the one eating a greater variety may be at lower risk.
It's not just cancer risk. In a study of thousands of men and women, a greater quantity of vegetables and a greater variety, may independently be beneficial for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Even after removing the effects of quantity, each different additional two items per week increase in variety of fruits and vegetables intake was associated with an 8% reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Why? Well, it may be attributable to individuals or combined effects of the many different bioactive phytochemicals contained in fruits and vegetables.
All the vegetables may offer protection…against chronic diseases, but each vegetable group contains a unique combination and amount of phytonutrients, which distinguishes them from other groups and vegetables within their own group. Indeed, because each vegetable contains a unique combination of phytonutriceuticals (vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and phytochemicals), a great diversity of vegetables should be eaten…to get all the health benefits.
Does it matter, though, if we get alpha-carotene or beta-carotene? Isn't an antioxidant an antioxidant? No. It has been shown that phytochemicals bind to specific receptors and proteins in our bodies. For example, our body appears to have a green tea receptor—that is, a receptor for EGCG, which is a key component of green tea. There are binding proteins for the phytonutrients in grapes, onions, and capers. In my video ‘The Broccoli Receptor: Our First Line of Defense,’ I talk about the broccoli receptor, for instance. Recently, a cell surface receptor was identified for a nutrient concentrated in apple peels. Importantly, these target proteins are considered indispensable for these plant foods to do what they do, but they can only do it if we actually eat them.
Just like it's better to eat a whole orange than simply take a vitamin C pill, because, otherwise, we'd miss out on all the other wonderful things in oranges that aren't in the pill, by just eating an apple, we're also missing out on all the wonderful things in oranges. When it comes to the unique phytonutrient profile of each fruit and vegetable, it truly is like comparing apples to oranges.
–Michael Greger M.D. FACLM, November 15, 2018
Recipe of the Month
1-2-3 Fruit Cake
1 kg dried fruit
2 c fruit juice, squeezed orange or water
3 c wholemeal flour
3 t raising agent
Soak the dried fruit in the juice or water for 8 hours. Mix in flour and raising agent. Pour into a lined 18cm2 cake tin. Bake at 130°C for one hour. Turn down to 110°C, continue to bake 3-4 hours until skewer comes out clean. Turn oven off and leave the cake in there until the oven goes cold.
Add grated lemon or orange rind
Add cardamon and/or vanilla
Add whole or chopped nuts
Use your own mix of dried fruit – figs, big fat raisins, apricots, pineapple
For a nutty texture, instead of the wholemeal flour use;
2½c wholemeal flour
½ c millet flour
Gluten free, instead of wholemeal flour use;
2 c rice flour
½ c tapioca flour
½ c cornflour (maize)