February 27, 2016 2:09:49 am
The importance of vegetables and fruits in our diets has never been debatable. This food group is an integral and valuable component of a healthy diet and is often referred as the protective food group, owing to its disease-fighting properties. Regular and daily consumption of fruits and vegetables could prevent a wide range of illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, obesity, respiratory diseases, osteoporosis, immune system problems and even certain cancers.
Nutritionally speaking, fruits and vegetables are low in calories, high in dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, and a myriad of beneficial non-nutrient substances called phyto-nutrients including plant sterols, flavonoids and antioxidants. Some of these also impart bright colour to fruits and vegetables and act as scavengers by cleaning up disease-causing free radicals. Fibre is important for digestion and nutrient absorption.
Interestingly, phyto-nutrients have also been linked to obesity management, independently. Green leafy vegetables have an added advantage, as they are rich in special kinds of anti-inflammatory fats, which are precursors to Omega-3 fats present in fish.
Vegetables and fruits constitute a low-calorie, nutrient-dense food group, high in water content, fibre, micronutrients and antioxidants, and minerals like magnesium and potassium. They are also known to make our diets alkaline. Hence they are aptly called functional foods.
Reduced fruit and vegetable consumption is linked to poor health and increased risk of non-communicable diseases. According to WHO (World Health Organisation), an estimated 5.2 million deaths worldwide were attributable to inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption. Several studies have associated low intake of fruits and vegetables with increased risk of chronic diseases and poor nutritional status.
WHO recommends a minimum of 400 gm of fruit and vegetables per day (excluding potatoes and other starchy tubers) for prevention of chronic diseases and alleviation of several micronutrient deficiencies, especially in less developed countries. However, according to their reports, fruit and vegetable intake globally has been found to be below the recommended daily intake of 400 gm/person.
Nearly 60 to 87 per cent adults globally fall short of the WHO recommendation and are missing out on crucial nutrition. In fact, according to the Global Phytonutrient Report released in February 2016, Indians on an average are consuming barely 250 gm/ day. This implies that most adults worldwide are not receiving the quantity or variety of phytonutrients that they need to support good health and wellness.
It’s not that people don’t eat fruits and vegetables, but there still exists a large gap between the recommended and actual intakes. Also, when we look at the Indian population, which is believed to be largely vegetarian, the very concept of vegetarianism is different. Typical Indian vegetarian menus comprise largely of cottage cheese, lentils, pulses, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, yogurt etc rather than crispy, crunchy and colourful vegetables.
To meet the WHO recommendation of consuming 400 g of fruits and vegetables a day, an easy and simple suggestion is that adults worldwide double their current consumption. So include them not only in your meals but also add these to your salads, vegetable juices, raitas and snacks. Or better still, dedicate a full meal to largely vegetables and fruits.
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