We often hear that to be healthy and boost our chances of naturally fighting various diseases, and, more importantly, to prevent diseases, we need to include as many fruits and vegetables as we can in our diets. But while this is true and fresh produce is, indeed, an essential part of any healthy diet, information is still confusing when it comes to the best way to eat vegetables and fruit. Remember that not everything advertised as healthy is as harmless as it is made to seem, and, as I have always said, always follow the traditional common-sense idea of cooking and eating.
There are too many confusing and harmful health tips out there, so you need to be vigilant. Here are some important things to note:
All fruit contains sugar; some fruits more than others.
This is a very common error for most people trying to maintain a healthy diet: they feel that if something is marketed as ‘healthy,’ then people are welcome to as much of it as possible. In spite of fruit’s generally amazing health properties and benefits, you should never overlook the nutritional facts of each item you include in your diet.
In the case of most fruits, they contain a quantity of sugar, which make a serving of fruit quite enough for an in-between meals snack. Also, a generous helping of fruit salad (even if it doesn’t contain any added sugar or cream) can contain as much sugar as a slice of cake. Sure, the health benefits can’t compare, but you shouldn’t neglect your total sugar intake when it comes to fruit just because it’s healthy. This is especially true if you struggle with diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular illness or pancreatic disease.
Sugar is still sugar, whether synthetic or natural. Moderation must, therefore, always be the key.
Juices are generally a bad idea; too many nutrients and too little fibre.
Don’t be misled by all the noise about juice cleanses and smoothie drinking. Of course, you can squeeze some orange juice or pineapple juice to rejuvenate your energy level from time to time, but it’s still, not the best way to take in your juice. Why? First, there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, extracting the juice out of vegetables and fruits leaves out their skins, pulp and fibre; and many health benefits of that produce depend on precisely those components. For example, the cancer-preventing properties of many fruits lie directly beneath their skins, in the flavonoids present there, and so do the anti-aging properties, since the skins of plenty of fruits contain collagen and colourful anti-oxidants.
Secondly, the substances you will manage to absorb will get into your system all at once, even if naturally they were supposed to be digested and absorbed over a longer period. This can prove an unnecessary shock to your system, especially due to the sugar quantity most juices and smoothies have. The fibre naturally present in fruit had precisely this purpose, of making the nutrients in the fruit be absorbed slower into your bloodstream, keeping you full for longer and sparing your system any big fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.
Some vegetables (and even fruit) are healthier when cooked.
There is a famous saying that it is always better to eat your vegetables and fruits raw. However, this is not always true. Not everything raw is healthier than their cooked or processed versions, especially if the cooking process is done at home, away from unnecessary chemical additions.
There’s a reason we humans have eaten cooked food for tens of thousands of years now and thrived off of it. First of all, many raw fruits and vegetables can contain harmful substances that can bring illness to our system or upset the delicate digestive balance; that’s why cooking them can make them safer to eat and more comfortable to digest. This is especially true nowadays when the fresh produce we buy is much more contaminated with pesticides and chemical fertilizers and so on.
In fact, there is a 60 per cent chance that the banana, pineapple, plantain and many other fruits and vegetables you buy in Lagos are already contaminated with preservatives and chemicals. Also, some of the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables only become activated in a way the human body can absorb when the fruits and vegetables in question are cooked. In other words, some vegetables and fruits are more healthy and nutritious when eaten cooked. The commonest examples are carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, potatoes and spinach. The lycopene in tomato is enhanced when cooked. Also, the amount of iron and calcium you absolve from Spinachis tripled when cooked.
In conclusion, do not forget that constantly eating vegetables and fruit is more important than the quantities. To enjoy the wonderful health benefits that fruit and vegetables bring, constancy is key. I once saw a man devouring a full bunch of banana, about 15 bananas at a go! When I asked why he needed to consume so many bananas at once, he replied that he had not eaten any fruit in the past week, and now that he had the chance, he wanted to make up for that by eating so much. That is a wrong approach to eating fruits and vegetables. The day-to-day approach is much better for your health.