Fruits and vegetables offer up natural plant compounds that help keep the body healthy, and variety is the key.
If you’re not a big fan of vegetables, you might think that you can make up for not eating them by eating lots of different fruits instead. It’s easy to see why. We almost always mention them in the same breath (“eat plenty of fruits and veggies”). Since they’re healthy plant foods, it’s natural to assume that they’re more or less interchangeable in terms of providing the nutrients the body needs.
To some extent that’s true. You can get your vitamin C just as easily from berries as from broccoli; potassium lurks in both beets and bananas. But fruits and veggies also offer up a dizzying and varied array of phytonutrients––natural plant compounds that can promote good health. So, getting the broadest range of phytonutrients is a lot more likely if you’re eating both fruits and vegetables.
Phytonutrients are responsible for the flavors and colors in fruits and vegetables. When you think about fruits and vegetables more from the standpoint of the huge range of flavors and hues they provide––and not so much as simply sources of vitamins and minerals––you can begin to appreciate how dissimilar they really are.
Berries and broccoli, for example, may look similar when it comes to their vitamin C content, but their phytonutrient profiles couldn’t be more different. Berries get their red-purple color from certain compounds that are a lot more widespread in fruits than in vegetables. On the other hand, there are different phytonutrients that are responsible for the strong odors found in broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. But you won’t find these smelly compounds in fruits. Another natural pigment, lycopene, gives a rich red color to fruits like tomatoes (yes, it’s a fruit), pink grapefruit and guava––but you’d be hard-pressed to find much in most vegetables.
I meet plenty of people who assume that eating fruits or vegetables is just as good as eating fruits and vegetables. So, I often use these examples to encourage them to get more variety in their diet. If this sounds like you, think of the hurdles in your way and how you might get over them.
Fewer people dislike fruits than veggies, and it’s often an issue of texture. If you don’t like the soft texture of ripe fruit, try whirling fresh or frozen fruit in the blender and add to smoothies or use as a topping on cottage cheese or yogurt. If some fruits are too tart for you, try the sweetest varieties. Tangerines, for example, are often sweeter than most oranges.
If you don’t like the texture of cooked veggies, try them raw. If strong flavors keep you from eating veggies, play around with seasonings, like herbs, garlic or citrus. You can also sneak them into soups, pasta sauces, casseroles and other healthy recipes. Or, cook them until tender-crisp, then chill and toss into a salad. That way you won’t pick up their strong odors in the steam.