Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of any healthy diet. Not only do they add taste, colour, and texture to our food, fruit and veg also provides us with the vitamins, nutrients, and fibre we need to help manage our weight and stay healthy. Eating plenty of produce has also been shown to increase energy levels and decrease the risk of numerous diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer.
While there are some traditional cultures that eat very few vegetables at all; including the Inuit, Maasai, and Sami cultures, they all have access to some form of plant matter. Even though these cultures eat mostly high-protein and high-fat diets, they still utilise a wide range of plant foods to complement their traditional diet. For example, the Inuit consume berries, sea vegetables, and tea from pine needles to get the nutrients they need. The Maasai also drink bitter herb tea on a regular basis, with the Sami people from Scandinavia gathering wild plant foods from miles around to obtain a balanced nutritional intake.
While animal foods technically provide all the micro-nutrients a person needs, a diet devoid of vegetables and other plants is likely to be low in magnesium, potassium, betaine, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and fibre. Folate helps to form red blood cells and is especially important for women of childbearing age. Foods rich in Vitamin A, including carrots and sweet potatoes, help keep our skin and eyes healthy and infection-free. Citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges are a great source of vitamins A and C, key antioxidant vitamins which help to combat the harmful effects of free radicals that are believed to be the precursors for heart disease and cancer.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, regular intake of fruits and vegetables can also help us to lose weight, with most produce being low in calories compared to other foods. For example, it's possible to substitute fruit and veg in some recipes to help cut down your meat, oil, and dairy product intake. Fruits and veggies also make convenient and delicious snacks, making them an ideal junk food substitute and the perfect way to manage energy levels between meals. Helping to control your weight is not the only benefit of eating more fruits and vegetables, however, with a diet rich in produce also helping to reduce the risk of some types of cancer and other chronic diseases.
According to Dr Mary Berrington of The Cancer Research Campaign, fruit and vegetable intake can definitely help to reduce our risk of developing cancer: "High fruit and veg consumption is associated with a decreased risk of several types of cancer, particularly stomach and bowel cancer... Fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids, flavonoids and other compounds that may be important in reducing the risk of cancer. Not all fruit and vegetables contain the same mix of these compounds, so variety is probably the key... Eating a wide range of fruit and veg increases the likelihood of getting beneficial components from all of them."