As usual, mom was right when she told you that eating fruits and vegetables would make you healthy and strong. For good nutrition, aim for at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit each day. Eat them fresh, steamed or sauteed in a teaspoon of olive oil, but avoid boiling to preserve nutrient content.
All hail fiber -- this undigestible carbohydrate helps keep your bowel movements regular and even helps you control your weight. Fiber slows the digestion of food, ensuring steady blood sugar instead of a spike and crash. It also helps you feel fuller on fewer calories so you're less likely to overeat. Soluble fiber, found in apples, peas and carrots, helps prevent heart disease by lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream. Adult women younger than 50 need at least 25 grams of total fiber per day.
Vitamins and Minerals
Produce tends to be packed with an assortment of vitamins and minerals. Look to strawberries, oranges and cauliflower for immune-boosting vitamin C. Get your vitamin A, which protects eyes and skin, from spinach, carrots and sweet potatoes. White beans, tomato paste and beet greens contain potassium, which helps keep your blood pressure low. And look to spinach and asparagus for folate, which is particularly important for women in childbearing years because it helps ensure fetal health.
Low Calorie Count
If you're watching your girlish figure, fruits and veggies are your best bet for low-calorie munching. Take the radish: at 1 calorie per whole radish, it's impossible to bust your diet on these. A cup of romaine lettuce has just 10 calories, as does a cup of alfalfa sprouts or a spear of broccoli. Other very light options include cucumbers, apricots, beets and peppers. Almost all produce is diet-friendly, although avocados are an exception: These high-fat treats average more than 300 calories per whole fruit, so stick with servings of one-third of a fruit or less.
Vitamins only make up part of the equation. Fruits and veggies are packed with phytonutrients, or plant nutrients, that health experts are still exploring. An orange, for example, contains more than 170 phytonutrients, many of which protect the plant against fungi, bacteria and other intruders. For humans, phytonutrients help protect against diseases and may slow aging, according to the University of Missouri Extension. Examples of phytonutrients include lutein and indoles, which may promote healthy vision and are found in broccoli, avocados and other green fruits and vegetables. Anthocyanins, found in purple produce such as blueberries and eggplants, may help protect memory.
- University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: Preserving Nutrients in Food
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet
- University of Missouri Extension: Fight Back with Phytonutrients
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Nutrient Information for Fruits and Vegetables
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 16
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Nutrient data for 09037, Avocados, Raw, All Commercial Varieties
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.