Health Canada’s recommendation to “have plenty of fruits and vegetables” is depicted on India’s Food Guide by a plate half full of produce. The symbol is meant to help us increase our intake of fruits and vegetables since many Indian’s don’t get enough.
Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of many disease-fighting nutrients including fibre, folate, vitamins C and E, potassium and selenium, plus hundreds of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, naturally occurring plant compounds that have disease-preventive properties. A diet plentiful in fruit and vegetables is associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline, healthy blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer.
But are fruits and vegetables nutritionally equivalent?
The short answer is: no. While the two categories offer similar vitamins and minerals, they have different nutrient and phytochemical profiles. Just as different whole grains, legumes and nuts do.
Many types of fruits and vegetables, for instance, contain decent amounts of vitamin C, needed for a healthy immune system, and potassium, a mineral that regulates blood pressure.
Leafy green vegetables, though, are the best sources of certain carotenoids associated with healthy brain ageing and a lower risk of cataract and macular degeneration. Carotenoids are also needed for healthy skin and immune function.
If you’re looking for anti-cancer phytochemicals called glucosinolates, you’ll find them only in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.
So, eating a mix of fruits and vegetables is the best way to consume a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.