When it comes to fruits and vegetables, we all know the more the better for optimal health and wellness for all the family – from digestive, heart and skin health, to hormone and brain function. But how much goodness are we really getting from our fresh produce?
Naturopath and Nutritionist, Sheena Hendon, gives us the juice on some of the top nutrients we find in our edible plants, and the evidence-based research on the impact soil, processing, storage and cooking may have on the quality of our local fruits and vegetable.
What are some of the top nutrients powering up our fresh produce?
Veggies and fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants, and contain bioactive phytochemicals which may provide desirable health benefits. While they contain many nutrients in differing amounts here are several of their key nutritional powerhouses.
- Calcium. Essential support for healthy bones and teeth and needed for normal function of muscle, nerves and some glands.
- Fibre. A high-fibre diet has always been synonymous with ‘being regular’, but also supports healthy bowel function, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and weight management.
- Folate. Our bodies need this B-vitamin to make DNA and other genetic material and for the body’s cells to divide.
- Iron. Vital support for healthy blood and normal function of all our cells.
- Magnesium. Necessary support for bone health and involved in hundreds of body reactions supporting energy production, muscle and nerve function.
- Potassium. May support the maintenance of healthy blood pressure.
- Vitamin A. Important for normal vision, reproduction and the immune system and helps support the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs to work properly.
- Vitamin C. This power packed nutrient provides support during times of tiredness and fatigue, supports normal immune, psychological and neurological function, and acts as a powerful antioxidant which supports the protection of our cells against damage.
What about the benefits of plant phytonutrients and antioxidants?
Phytonutrients or phytochemicals (those you may know about include Beta-carotene, Lycopene, Lutein, Resveratrol, Anthocyanins and Zeaxanthin) are beneficial chemicals only found in fruit, vegetables, grains, and other plant foods. Some phytonutrients help our cells communicate better with each other; others help prevent cell mutations, others are potent antioxidants, and many have functions we are only beginning to understand. In general, they are anti-ageing, and support normal immunity and health.
Antioxidants are phytochemicals, but what do they do specifically? Our cells are exposed to a variety of oxidising agents present in air, food, and water. Overproduction of oxidants can lead to oxidative stress and damage. Antioxidants may slow down this oxidative stress. Fruit and vegetables contain a wide variety of antioxidant compounds including ascorbic acid, carotenoids, vitamin E and phenolics, such as flavonoids and coumarin.
What are the health benefits of getting your nutrients from whole fruit and vegetables?
Research indicates that the nutrients in our fruits and veggies work together to provide maximum health benefits. For example, one published paper suggests that vitamin C in apples accounted for only 0.4 % of a total activity suggesting that most of the antioxidant activity (99.6%) may come from a natural combination of phytochemicals such as phenolics and flavonoids.
Additionally, although supplementation has its place it seems all may not be equal. Synthetic and food-derived vitamin C is chemically identical, but the numerous nutrients and phytochemicals in our whole fruits and vegetables may positively influence its bioavailability. Research indicates that various plant flavonoids such as hesperidin and rutin may enhance vitamin C uptake. Another piece of research demonstrates that the polyphenols in blackcurrants work with other blackcurrant compounds to support healthy immunity. That is why eating a nutritious, and varied diet including a wide variety of whole fruits and vegetables is vital as a starting point for optimum wellness.
What about losses from our soil, processing, storage or cooking?
Our NZ volcanic soils may lack essential minerals. As a result, the produce that grows in these soils can be nutrient deficient, particularly selenium, iodine, zinc, chromium and boron - all minerals essential for the functioning of the human body.
Nutrient levels in our fresh produce can be affected by ripeness, plant variety, distance to market, storage, exposure to light, and processing. Some organic fruits and vegetables may contain different levels of nutrients than conventional foods at harvest or collection. And studies show that the natural antioxidant, Lycopene, responsible for the characteristic red colour of tomatoes is degraded during some processing procedures and may lose some health benefits.
Cooking can also cause losses. Starchy veggies may lose between 40-80 of their vitamin C during cooking, because of leaching and oxidation. Freezing reduces vitamin C slightly, but at the end of long-term frozen storage (12 months), a significant decrease (33% to 55%) in vitamin C can occur.
Getting our nutrients from whole fruits and veggies is best, but we need to be aware that they may not be as nutrient dense as we think. To get the best from your plant-based foods remember to;
- Shop for the freshest
- Choose those in season
- Grow your own in nutrient-rich soils
- Eat raw or lightly cooked to retain nutrients
Getting your daily dose of goodness
Prevention is better than cure and ensuring you and your family are as healthy and well as possible is vital. That’s where a daily multivitamin made only from fruits and vegetable and containing a balanced combination of phytochemicals vitamins and minerals found in our whole fruit and vegetables comes in.
Added Mojo is a natural health supplement containing only organic fruit and vegetables, gently dried and powdered to retain their natural goodness. It provides 100% of your 12 recommended daily vitamins and six minerals from 10+ servings of fruit and vegetables and is a source of many phytochemicals including lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin, with no added synthetic ingredients, flavourings or fillers. Shop Added Mojo on our secure online store.
Always read the label and use as directed. Vitamins and minerals are supplementary to and not a replacement for a balanced diet.
Good3 Ltd, Auckland, NZ. TAPS MR5900
Author: Sheena Hendon, registered nutritionist and naturopath.