Did you know health experts recommend consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables daily? According to the USDA, as a nation, we only consume one serving of fruit and one and a half servings of vegetables per day. Many individuals and families have a hard time accessing produce in their communities. Perhaps people don’t understand how to cook or prepare the produce in a healthful manner, and many may be unaware of why fruits and vegetables are an important part of a nutritionally balanced diet.
Fruits and vegetables are packed full of beneficial vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. These nutrients can improve immune function and help prevent chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease. Phytochemicals are compounds produced by plants, and each color has different benefits for the body. For example, orange foods such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes and carrots contain beta-carotene which plays a role in vision, skin and bone health. Lycopene, found in red foods such as tomatoes, watermelon and red peppers, is a powerful antioxidant that may lower the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Most phytochemicals have been found to work like antioxidants, detoxing the body from harmful carcinogens. Scientists have identified thousands of types of phytochemicals, but only a few have been studied closely. What’s the main message they want to get across? Eat as many as possible! Eating an array of different colored fruits and vegetables will have the best effect on your overall health. Filling half your plate these foods is a great way to make sure that you are eating enough.
One of the best things about fruits and vegetables, besides all the wonderful health properties they provide, is that they are nutritious fresh, frozen or canned. Purchasing fresh produce according to season is a great way to save money; seasonal items are abundant and therefore less expensive. However, fresh and frozen produce is often limited to farmers markets and grocery stores. Many people may not have access due to lack of transportation and other resources. In addition, fresh and frozen produce can be expensive even if accessibility isn’t an issue. Canned fruits and vegetables are also healthy, shelf stable and less expensive. If possible, the best canned options to select or donate to your local food bank are low sodium or no salt added vegetables, and fruit packed in water or 100% juice. Rinsing off the canned produce can also help remove some of the added sugar or sodium.
Within the past few years, the Atlanta Community Food Bank has taken intentional strides to increase the procurement and distribution of fruits and vegetables. A nutritional ranking system allows our partner agencies to identify healthier options when ordering, thus increasing their ability to distribute healthier foods to those they serve. The Food Bank’s Community Gardens Program works to help agencies and communities create and sustain community gardens to increase the availability of fruits and vegetables. In addition, the Food Bank’s Nutrition and Wellness team travels to our partner agencies to demonstrate affordable, delicious and nutritious ways to prepare produce. These efforts help to ensure that more adults, children and families have the opportunity to benefit from the wonderful properties that fruits and vegetables provide. Check out this citrus salad for a great way to make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
Rachel Taft, RDN, LD
Want to know what counts as a cup of fruit? Find out here!
Learn what counts as one vegetable serving here!