fruits veggies heart health

Heart to Heart with Fruits and Veggies

Co-written with Mary Nassonova, Texas Health Resources Presbyterian Hospital Dallas Dietetic Intern

Have you ever heard the phrase “eat the rainbow?” It is often used to remind us to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to help boost health and fitness. As February is American Heart Month, it’s the perfect time to focus on “eating the rainbow” to reduce risk of heart disease. And adding more colorful fruits and veggies to your meals is easy, fun and most importantly, flavorful!

According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. There are, however, many ways you can lower your risk. One of the most effective weapons in the fight against heart disease is a well-balanced diet with a range of different produce.

The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 4 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables for adults each day. Unfortunately, only 1 out of 10 Americans currently meets these recommendations. It is clear that we can all do better! Read on to discover how eating produce in an array of colors can improve heart health as well as ways to easily include them in your daily meals.

Each color within the produce food group offers special benefits for the heart. When combined together,  they’ll supply vitamins A and C, phytonutrients like lycopene, anthocyanins and polyphenols as well as other antioxidants to help lower blood pressure, control cholesterol, prevent atherosclerosis and reduce inflammation, all contributing factors to heart disease

Key players: Beta-carotene (converted to vitamin A in the body), vitamin C and potassium
Examples: broccoli, asparagus, leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens), avocado, green beans, cucumber, kiwi

Key players: Beta-carotene (converted to vitamin A in the body), vitamin C and lycopene
Examples: carrots, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, orange, apple, mango, papaya, pears

Key players: polyphenols, potassium and magnesium
Examples: cauliflower, mushroom, potato, garlic/onions, banana

Key players: anthocyanins
Examples: eggplant, berries, plums, grapes, cherries, tomatoes
Fruits and vegetables are also an excellent source of fiber. When you meet your recommended fruit and vegetable intake, getting enough fiber will be a breeze.

Canned, dried, frozen and fresh produce provide the same nutrients so you can be creative when using them in your meals. If canned or frozen, look for options with no added sugars and compare prices to get the most for your money. The serving sizes of dried fruits like raisins will be slightly smaller as they have less water. Always check the nutrition facts on the label for serving size suggestions.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match your fruits and veggies in the same meal. Berries in a salad? Absolutely! Grilled pineapple with chicken? Why not! Mango salsa? Delicious! Whether you blend fruits and veggies together in a smoothie, make zucchini noodles with tomato sauce, sneak more veggies into a soup or stir-fry or add spinach and tomatoes to scrambled eggs at breakfast, it’s important to pick from all the colors to get the combined benefits for heart health. With so many wonderful fruits and vegetables to choose from, anyone can find tasty options and fight heart disease at the same time.

Originally published in Southern Dallas County Business and Living Magazine, February 2020

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