Many of us have heard the phrase, “Eat the rainbow,” and not just from the pointed marketing ads from Skittles brand candy. However, this time around, it’s about the rainbow of fruits and vegetables that grace our local produce aisles! This June, we here at VANTAGE Aging, along with Meals on Wheels of Northeast Ohio, celebrate National Fruits and Vegetables Month. However, this is about more than one month; we know how important it is to eat these beautiful blessings from the earth every day.
Why say “eat the rainbow”? Well, because vegetables and fruits bring their brilliant colors to all tables; from green spinach and broccoli to orange carrots and tangerines, red strawberries and radishes to yellow corn and lemons, the spectrum of colors in the produce section is almost as varied as the benefits they bring to our bodies. There are many benefits to eating the rainbow, and for aging adults, the adding of these colorful components to your grocery list is more important than ever.
According to the National Institute on Aging, older Americans do not, in general, eat enough fruit. In fact, Americans of all ages could stand to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption, both for their health now and their health as they age. There are incredible benefits to these tasty mealtime companions.
- Diets rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure. As we age, the chance of developing high blood pressure increases. By adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to your menu, you are taking preemptive steps to help lower that risk for you and those you love. Research has shown that individuals who follow a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and low-fat dairy reduced systolic blood pressure by 11 mm Hg and diastolic by 6 mm Hg. These are the same target numbers medication can achieve!
- Vegetable and fruit consumption can lead to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, a study done at Harvard found in 469,551 people, higher intake levels of fruits and vegetables reduced the risk of death from heart disease by an average of 4% per additional serving of fruits and vegetables per day! It’s true – an apple (extra) a day can really keep that cardiologist at bay! In the same Harvard study, “Those who averaged 8 or more servings a day were 30% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.” If you’re wondering which ones pack the most punch, think green: “Although all fruits and vegetables likely contributed to his benefit, green leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and mustard greens were most strongly associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.” Other helpful contributors include broccoli, cabbage, kale, and citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit.
- Some types of cancers are preventable through dietary changes, such as increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat. Studies have shown that women who ate more than 5.5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day had an 11% lower risk of breast cancer than those who ate 2.5 servings or less. Eating tomatoes may help protect men against prostate cancer due to the lycopene content. And, relatedly, non-starchy vegetable consumption could protect against cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach. Talk about produce power!
- Blood sugar can be positively affected by fruits and vegetables, and because both fruits and vegetables have low glycemic loads, eating them more often can prevent blood sugar spikes, lower snacking, and even causing weight loss. Greater consumption of whole, fresh fruits has been linked to lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes, as is increasing consumption of green leafy vegetables. Switching out carbohydrates, such as bread and rice, with more fruits and vegetables also has shown to help boost weight loss. Snacking on an apple, some grapes, or a handful of baby carrots also helps reduce the temptations of snacking on other foods rich in refined sugars and carbs. While fruits can’t always curb a sweet tooth, they can help maintain a healthy body weight, which has more benefits in the long run, as increased body weight can lead to a whole new host of problems as we age.
- Want healthier eyes? Snack on those fruits and veggies! Eating these delicious, good-for-you foods can also prevent both cataracts and macular degeneration, both are aging-related eye diseases that currently afflict millions of Americans over the age of 65. In the fight to “see” a better tomorrow, fill up that salad plate!
Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat each day is truly important, no matter your age. However, we at VANTAGE know how hard it can be for some of our seniors to access fresh produce. We believe that every older adult deserves the right to age positively, at home, on their own terms, without barriers to their quality of living, and that includes access to the care, and food, all of us require. Barriers to these such as lack of fresh produce options where one lives, lower and fixed income, and being homebound prevent many from being able to get all of the fruits and vegetables they need to stay healthy. That is why we work so hard through our Meals on Wheels of Northeast Ohio program to deliver all of the daily nutrients our clients need – including all of the delicious fruit and vegetable options on that rainbow spectrum. If you, or someone you know, is facing food insecurity or increased risks of disease due to lack of access to food, please contact us today at 330-515-5605 or visit https://vantageaging.org/programs-and-services/meals-on-wheels/ for more information.
*The information in this article is intended solely to provide general information on matters of interest for the personal use of the reader, who accepts full responsibility for its use. This article should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, medical, or other competent advisors.