Fresh food may seem pricey but nutritionists insist you can't afford not to buy fruit and vegetables regularly. With a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other compounds, they help protect the body against everyday and chronic health conditions.
"The more you eat the healthier you'll be," says Tania Ferraretto from Nutrition Professionals Australia. "I tell people to make sure there's some salad at lunch time, an extra serve of veg at dinner and replace one snack a day with fruit." Luckily, there are various options depending on budget and availability to boost the body's health.
Cooked tomatoes are ideal Ferraretto says. "People often think they have to eat raw food but there's a really powerful antioxidant in tomatoes called lycopene that's more concentrated in cooked tomatoes than it is in fresh," she says. Other foods that reduce heart disease include guava, watermelon, green leafy vegetables (lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, bok choy, kale), and citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit).
Research shows that just adding one extra serve of fruit and veg each day can reduce your risk of head, neck and lung cancer, while red (lycopene-rich) foods prevent prostate cancer. And the more colour, the wider the range of cancer-fighting antioxidants. Try non-starchy vegetables like lettuce and other leafy greens, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, onions, cauliflower and blue and purple foods like blueberries and eggplant. "And go for garlic, chilli, apples and anything with vitamins A, C and E like orange fruit and veg, citrus, berries, kiwi and red capsicum if it's raw," says Ferraretto.
Vision and age-related eye diseases
Fill your shopping basket with lots of dark green, leafy vegies. They contain carotenoids, which protect against age-related eye disease (one study showed that eating spinach and collard greens five times a week noticeably reduced the risk of macular degeneration). Also choose carrots for vitamin A and other bright foods like corn, squash, kiwi fruit and grapes.
"All non-starchy vegetables are good because they fill you up while providing minimal carbohydrates," says Ferraretto. You need small meals and regular snacks with plenty of leafy greens and legumes. "Things like beans and lentils are really good because they're very high in fibre, very slowly digested and absorbed, and provide protein." While starchy potatoes are usually out, she suggests sweet potatoes and Carisma, a low-GI white potato.
A recent study at Boston University found what many health experts believe: a diet high in fruit and veg can help to prevent weight gain. Ferraretto supports these findings. "Half your plate should be leafy greens, carrots, non-starchy vegies and things like mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and salad," she says. Opt for healthy, filling snacks like bananas, raw vegies and apples, and limit foods with healthy fats such as avocadoes.
Depression and stress
We often reach for comfort food when our mood slumps, but it needn't be fatty. "If you want something that's fulfilling and sustaining, go for legumes," says Ferraretto, "like a minestrone or veg and lentil soup where you're getting heaps of antioxidants and vitamins." High-folate and deeply coloured foods like spinach and berries, and high-fibre pears, apples and bussel sprouts may reduce irritability and mood swings.