Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables and fresh fruits are treasure trove of several minerals and vitamins and hence, protect from diseases
Fresh Vegetables and fruits are rich sources of micronutrients and macronutrients. The micronutrients present are minerals (like iron and calcium) and vitamins (like vitamin C, folic acid, B complex vitamins and carotenoids) whereas, the macronutrients present are complex carbohydrates/ fibre. They contain abundant amounts of iron, calcium, vitamin C, folic acid, carotenoids (precursors of vitamin A) and phytochemicals. Some vegetables and fruits provide very low calories, whereas some others such as potato, sweet potato, tapioca and yam as well as fruits like banana are rich in starch which provides energy in good amount. Therefore, vegetables and fruits can be used to increase or decrease calories in our diet.
Iron is an essential element necessary for the formation of haemoglobin, the red pigment present in the red cells of blood. Haemoglobin plays an important role in the transport of oxygen to the tissues. Reduction in haemoglobin in blood leads to anaemia, a condition characterised by paleness and easy fatigue and increased susceptibility to infections. Iron is available in plenty in green leafy vegetables. But the absorption of iron is limited. Vitamin C rich foods must be consumed daily to improve iron absorption.
This fat-soluble vitamin is necessary for clear vision in dim light, and for maintaining the integrity of epithelial tissues. In vitamin A deficiency, the white of the eye (conjunctiva) loses its luster and becomes dry. In severe vitamin A deficiency, the black area of the eye (cornea) gets necrosed, leading to irreversible blindness in young children. Vitamin A also has a role in maintaining resistance of the body to common infections. Carotenoids are plentiful in fruits and vegetables that are green or deep yellow/orange in colour, such as green leafy vegetables, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, papaya, mango etc.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient required for healthy bones and teeth. It also promotes iron absorption. Vitamin C deficiency is characterised by weakness, bleeding gums and defective bone growth. Vitamin C is abundantly available in fresh amla, citrus fruits, guava, banana and certain vegetables such as tomatoes. However, it is very susceptible to destruction by atmospheric oxidation. It is for this reason that when vegetables become dry and stale or cut and exposed to air most of the vitamin C originally present in destroyed.
Folic acid is a haemopoietic vitamin essential for multiplication and maturation of red cells in our body. Its deficiency leads to megaloblastic anaemias. Folic acid intake during pregnancy protects the foetus from developing certain congenital defects. It also promotes the birth weight of infants. Folic acid deficiency increases homocysteine levels in blood, thereby increasing the risk for heart disease. Green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and liver are good sources of folates.
Many of the vegetables and fruits have low calories. Large intake of low calorie vegetables and fruits can help in reducing calories in diet and help in obesity management. On the other hand vegetables like colocasia, potato, tapioca, yam, sweet potato and fruits like banana, avocado pear (215 Kcal) and mahua (111 Kcal) have more than 100 kcal per 100gram
Vegetables provide phytochemicals and considerable health significance to the human body. Among these, dietary fibre, antioxidants and other bio-active constituents require special mention. These special factors are required for delaying ageing and preventing the processes which lead to diseases such as cataract, cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes and cancer
Dietary fibre delays the intestinal transit of the food consumed. Dietary fibre is important for proper bowel function, to reduce chronic constipation, diverticular disease, haemorrhoids coronary heart diseases, diabetes and obesity. They also reduce plasma cholesterol. The protective role of dietary fibre against colon cancer has long been recognised.
In the recent past, the role of vegetables and fruits as sources of antioxidants has been receiving considerable attention. Antioxidants restrict the damage that reactive oxygen free radicals can cause to the cell and cellular components. They are of primary biological value in giving protection from certain diseases. Some of the diseases that have their origin in deleterious free radical reactions are atherosclerosis, cancer, inflammatory joint diseases, asthma, diabetes etc. Raw and fresh vegetables like green leafy vegetables, carrots, fresh fruits including citrus and tomatoes have been identified as good sources of antioxidants (free radicalscavengers). The nutrients vitamin C and carotenoids that are present in these vegetables are also potential antioxidants. Different colored vegetable provide different antioxidants like orange colored provide beta-carotene, red provide lycopene, deep red provide betalines, blue and purple provide anthocynins.
The Expert Committee of the Indian Council of Medical Research, taking into consideration the nutrient requirements, has recommended that every individual should consume at least 300 g of vegetables (GLV : 50 g; Other vegetables : 200 g; Roots & Tubers : 50 g) in a day. In addition, fresh fruits (100 g), should be consumed regularly. Since requirements of iron and folic acid are higher for pregnant women they should consume 100g of leafy vegetables daily. High calorie vegetables and fruits to be restricted for overweight/ obese subjects.
We should consume fresh, locally available and preferably seasonal vegetables and fruits. They have more micronutrients and are tasty. However, no single fruit or vegetable provides all the nutrients you need. The key lies in eating a variety of them and with different colors. Include commonly consumed leafy greens, tomatoes and other vegetables, apart from those which are yellow, orange, red, deep red, purple colored citrus fruits, being vitamin C-rich enrich the diets significantly. Along with these, try selecting some new vegetables and fruits to your meals
Vitamins are lost during washing of cut vegetables and cooking of foodstuffs. However, proper methods of cooking can substantially reduce these losses. Nutrient loss is high when the vegetables are washed after cutting or when they are cut into small pieces for cooking. Consumption of properly washed raw and fresh vegetables is always beneficial.
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