Fruits and vegetables can combat many illnesses

Dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the 2010 Di­et­ary Guidelines, mul­tiple stud­ies sug­ges­ted that a diet rich in fruits, ve­get­ables and whole grains may of­fer some pro­tec­tion against car­di­ovas­cu­lar dis­ease, Type 2 Dia­betes and neuro­de­gen­er­a­tion.

So nat­ur­ally, one of the largest re­com­mend­a­tions in­cluded in the 2012 Di­et­ary Guidelines is to make half of your plate fruits and ve­get­ables, and choose six or more whole grain foods daily.

Fruits, ve­get­ables, whole grains and many oth­er plant-based food items all con­tain nat­ur­ally oc­cur­ring com­pounds known as phyto­chem­ic­als (phyto means plant in Greek).

All of these plant-based foods have high vit­am­in and min­er­al con­tent, in ad­di­tion to of­fer­ing the aging body pro­tect­ive health be­ne­fits from cer­tain dis­eases. These phyto­chem­ic­al com­pon­ents are also re­spons­ible for col­or, fla­vor and odor of plant foods such as gar­lic’s pun­gent odor.

Car­di­ovas­cu­lar Dis­ease

Phyto­chem­ic­als have been as­so­ci­ated with lower­ing blood pres­sure, re­du­cing in­flam­ma­tion, in­creas­ing HDL (good cho­les­ter­ol) while de­creas­ing LDL (bad cho­les­ter­ol), dilat­ing blood ves­sels and de­creas­ing the tend­ency of blood clots. Co­coa has been found to im­prove the dila­tion of blood ves­sels as well, es­pe­cially among adults older than 50 years of age. No spe­cif­ic phyto­chem­ic­als have been tied to a de­crease in car­di­ovas­cu­lar dis­ease, but the re­search sup­port ex­ists for the re­com­mend­a­tion to eat fruits and ve­get­ables daily to pre­vent car­di­ac dis­ease.


There is a de­creased risk of breast, lung and colon can­cer with in­take of fruits, ve­get­ables and whole grains, as well as con­sump­tion of the Medi­ter­ranean diet. Un­like car­di­ac dis­ease, stud­ies have been con­duc­ted on spe­cif­ic phyto­chem­ic­als in the pre­ven­tion of can­cer. These in­di­vidu­al phyto­chem­ic­als have been linked to re­duced can­cer risk, for in­stance, in­take of cru­ci­fer­ous ve­get­ables has been shown to de­crease risk of pro­state lung, breast and colon can­cer; however, re­search leads us to be­lieve that a healthy com­bin­a­tion of phyto­chem­ic­als is the ideal over single phyto­chem­ic­al in­take. Thera­peut­ic com­bin­a­tions of phyto­chem­ic­als have not yet been iden­ti­fied for can­cer pre­ven­tion and treat­ment.

With any re­com­mend­a­tion that comes out of re­search, the ef­fects vary based on age, ge­net­ic makeup, med­ic­a­tion list and en­vir­on­ment. For in­stance, some ve­get­ables in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try are grown in dif­fer­ent types of soil with vary­ing nu­tri­ent com­pos­i­tion.

Type 2 Dia­betes

The most prom­ising re­search for Type 2 Dia­betes and phyto­chem­ic­als is on an­ti­ox­id­ants and flavon­oids (pig­ments in fruits and ve­get­ables that give them their rich col­ors). These an­ti­ox­id­ants and pig­ments slow the di­ges­tion and ab­sorp­tion of car­bo­hydrates, while also mod­u­lat­ing the gluc­ose re­lease from the liv­er. This ef­fect­ively lowers blood sug­ar levels. In ad­di­tion, the nat­ur­ally oc­cur­ring an­ti­ox­id­ants in the tea and co­coa plants may con­trib­ute to im­proved in­sulin sens­it­iv­ity.


Re­search sug­gests the phyto­chem­ic­als found in red pep­per, tur­mer­ic, tea, wine, grapes and pea­nuts may provide pro­tec­tion against neuro­de­gen­er­at­ive dis­eases such as Alzheimer’s and Par­kin­son’s. Flavon­oids, too,are thought to help re­verse age-re­lated de­clines in cog­nit­ive func­tion by in­creas­ing the num­ber of con­nec­tions among neur­ons and im­prov­ing blood flow. It has been sug­ges­ted that the caf­feine in tea has an as­so­ci­ation with lower­ing the risk of Par­kin­son’s dis­ease or delay­ing its on­set.

The con­sump­tion of flavon­oid rich co­coa (more than 70 per­cent co­coa powder con­tent) has been found to in­crease the blood flow in the brain. This is im­port­ant for op­tim­al brain func­tion and de­creases in the oc­cur­rence of de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Over­all, re­search has shown a vast list of health be­ne­fits pro­duced by phyto­chem­ic­als in the body, some of which are stim­u­la­tion of the im­mune sys­tem, pre­ven­tion of DNA dam­age and slow­ing the growth of can­cer cells. In ad­di­tion to phyto­chem­ic­als, the plant-based foods dis­cussed in this art­icle also con­tain fiber, vit­am­in and min­er­als. It’s dif­fi­cult to in­di­vidu­ally identi­fy which nu­tri­ents are re­spons­ible for the health be­ne­fits of these foods be­cause of the com­plex in­ter­ac­tions that oc­cur in the body. The re­com­mend­a­tion that comes from the USDA and di­eti­tians in the na­tion is con­tin­ue to con­sume an in­creased amount of plant-based foods, bal­ance it with in­creased whole grains, hy­dra­tion and phys­ic­al activ­ity. ••

Jac­queline Wo­j­ciechow­ski is a re­gistered di­eti­tian nu­tri­tion­ist and a board-cer­ti­fied spe­cial­ist in ge­ron­to­lo­gic­al nu­tri­tion at Wes­ley En­hanced Liv­ing Pennypack Park.

comments powered by Disqus