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Family Health Magazine - NUTRITION

The Power of Fruits and Vegetables
A rainbow of options

If you are making an effort to eat more vegetables and fruit, you are not alone. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians are eating more greens, reds, oranges and blues. A diet high in vegetables and fruit helps prevent many chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. They are great choices to manage weight. Plus, fruits and vegetables taste fantastic.

The following nutrients can be found in fruits and vegetables.

  • Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant.
  • Folate is a B vitamin essential in producing DNA. (DNA carries the genetic information for cell growth, division and function.)
  • Beta-carotene is another nutrient that acts as a powerful antioxidant to protect DNA. This nutrient is so important that Canada’s Food Guide advises eating at least one dark green and one orange vegetable every day. Beta-carotene has been shown to guard against lung cancer. It also changes into vitamin A, which helps cell growth, teeth and bone structure, and boosts our immune (defence) system.
  • Lutein protects our eyes from cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
  • Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that protect against damage to the body’s cholesterol.
  • Cruciferous compounds contain phytochemicals that help protect against cancer.
  • Lycopene gives plants their red colour and may protect against prostate cancer.
  • Sulphur compounds may help lower cholesterol and boost the immune system.


Find it in:

Vitamin C Oranges, grapefruit, cantaloupe, kiwi, bell peppers and broccoli
Folate Avocado, oranges, asparagus, bean sprouts, beets, romaine lettuce and spinach
Beta-carotene Apricots, cantaloupe, mango, nectarines, papaya, peaches, carrots, kale, pumpkin, spinach and squash
Lutein Grapes, kiwi, broccoli, kale, peppers, spinach and Swiss chard
Anthocyanins Berries, cherries, cranberries and prunes
Cruciferous compounds Bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, rutabaga and turnips
Lypocene Pink grapefruit, watermelon, fresh tomatoes, and processed tomato products like pasta sauce and salsa
Sulphur compounds Onions and garlic

What is in vegetables and fruit that make them so good for us?

Vegetables and fruit contain vitamins, minerals, and thousands of protective plant chemicals called phytochemicals. Antioxidants protect the body from the harmful effects of molecules called free radicals. Free radicals attack cells, promoting cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Vegetables and fruit contain carbohydrates that fuel our brains and bodies so that we have energy to do all the things we do each day. They also include dietary fibre that helps prevent constipation, diverticulitis, certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Which vegetables and fruit are best?

When choosing vegetables and fruit, select a variety to get the vast array of nutrients your body needs. You often hear that deeply coloured vegetables and fruit are best. While richly coloured kale, sweet potatoes, oranges, and blueberries score high, foods such as bananas and garlic are wonderful too.

Search on these sites to find out more about healthy eating and lifestyles

Dietitians of Canada

Health Canada

Canadian Diabetes Association:

Heart and Stroke Foundation

Canadian Cancer Society

Canada’s Food Guide

Vegetables, fruit and chronic disease

Any healthy diet focuses on eating more vegetables and fruit. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends that half your dinner plate be covered in vegetables. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is equally loaded with vegetables and fruit. Broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes and regular potatoes have potassium that protects our hearts. Check out the information and cookbooks available through the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Diabetes Association, and Dietitians of Canada (see sidebar).

Vegetables, fruit and weight loss

Vegetables and fruit are very low in calories and are a dieter’s best friends. Produce is mostly water, so has fewer calories per bite compared to denser foods. Adding extra veggies to meals and snacks makes you feel full longer. For instance, fill up without adding calories by loading your sandwich with lettuce, tomato, sliced red pepper, or shredded carrots, and adding less high-calorie items like cheese and meat.

Enjoy fruit for snacks and dessert. If you want a real treat, look no further than a beautiful bowl of strawberries, a perfectly ripe pear or banana, or slices of crisp apple. Experiment with grilled pineapple or kale chips for a healthy treat.

Is organic better?

Recent research has found no evidence that organic and regular vegetables and fruit differ significantly in nutrient content. However, people buy organic for reasons other than nutrient value. Organic produce is grown without commonly used pesticides and fertilizers, which could benefit both health and the environment.

You may want to check the US Environmental Working Group’s list of the best and worst produce with respect to pesticides ( Among the cleanest are onions, avocado, asparagus, frozen peas and frozen corn, cabbage and broccoli. Among the worst are celery, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, spinach, lettuce and potatoes. No matter what, you still must wash organic produce before you use it.

Try to keep the organic issue in perspective. The many studies highlighting the health benefits of vegetables and fruit were done on regular produce, not organic.


Number of servings per day

2 to 3 years
4 servings
4 to 8 years
5 servings
9 to 13 years
6 servings
14 to 18 years
7 servings for females
8 servings for males
19 to 50 years
7 to 8 servings for females
8 to 10 servings for males
51+ years
7 servings

Raw or cooked?

A combination of raw and cooked vegetables and fruit is best. Lightly cooking carrots or kale will actually release nutrients that are tightly bound in the cell walls. Since vitamin C and B vitamins are water-soluble, foods like red peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli should be lightly steamed, stir-fried, or microwaved in a bit of water. Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C when eaten fresh. However, heat is needed to get the highest amount of lycopene, the nutrient that protects against prostate cancer. So bring on the stewed tomatoes and salsa!

Frozen or canned?

Some people are very sceptical about frozen or canned vegetables and fruit. Still, they are worth considering. These foods have been flash-processed and can be just as healthy as their fresh counterparts. Go easy on frozen vegetables that come in a sauce, as this adds extra fat and sodium. Buy canned fruit in water. Choose low-sodium canned vegetables, or rinse them with fresh water before using. The bottom line – get your fruit and vegetables however you can. Frozen or canned is better than none at all.

Children (not all are picky!)

Want your children to eat more vegetables? Do not get frustrated. Picky eating is normal for children, who naturally approach unfamiliar situations (including trying new foods) slowly.

Some children are hyper-sensitive to taste and texture, but can learn to like a variety of foods if they are served regularly and without pressure. Hiding or camouflaging vegetables in foods (such as pureed beet chocolate cake) may work in some families, but not others. Of course, introducing children to the real, delicious taste of a variety of healthy vegetables and fruit is ideal. Kids will love baked sweet potato fries, papaya in salad, and fruit kabobs.

How much do we need to eat?

Canada’s Food Guide servings of vegetables and fruit*

Sample serving:

  • 1 medium potato, tomato, carrot, pear, apple, banana
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) broccoli, peas, squash, yam, grapes
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) juice or tomato sauce
  • 1 cup (250 mL) leafy greens
  • Eat at least one dark green vegetable (such as broccoli, romaine lettuce or spinach) and one orange vegetable (such as carrots, sweet potato or winter squash) each day.
  • Prepare vegetables and fruit with little or no added fat, sugar or salt.
  • Steam, bake or stir-fry vegetables instead of deep-frying them.
  • Enjoy vegetables and fruit more often than juice.

Source: Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide


Research has shown that if you eat the recommended amounts of vegetables and fruit in Canada’s Food Guide, you do not need to take a vitamin and mineral supplement. Whole foods contain fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals that work together to keep you healthy. If you do use a supplement, take a multivitamin rather than a single mega dose of one particular nutrient.

Handling and preparing fruit and vegetables

Whether you use conventional produce or organic, food safety is key. Handle produce with clean hands and clean utensils, on clean work surfaces. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water. It is not necessary to use a specialty produce detergent. Use a vegetable brush to scrub skins that are tough, as with cantaloupe, oranges, and potatoes. Ready-to-eat bagged, pre-washed leafy greens do not have to be washed again. Place peeled vegetables and fruit on clean plates and platters to avoid contamination from other foods. Refrigerate fresh vegetables and fruit within two hours of cutting them.

For more detail, go to Health Canada’s website and search ‘Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.’

Delicious taste

Supermarkets and farmers’ markets are bursting with a wonderful array of fruit and vegetables. Ask staff to help if you are unsure about purchasing something new. Try different ways of cooking or serving items, like a fruit smoothie with blueberries, oven-roasted asparagus, barbequed corn, butternut squash soup, pizza loaded with veggies, or grilled fruit. All are delicious, nutritious and good for everyone in your family!

FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specifid medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physican promptly. Copyright 2012, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 0S1  [NU_FHd10]
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