Why do we find it hard to eat the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables? In much of Africa, there is a wide variety to choose from, and they grow abundantly in just about every region. Fruits are sweet so most people – adults and children – can be persuaded to make them a part of their daily diet. Vegetables, on the other hand, are a totally different story. Many taste bland, chewy, and even sometimes bitter. Like fruits, though, they’re loaded with vital nutrients for your health.
The concept of “salad” – eating a bunch of mostly raw vegetables thrown together is “un-African.” It’s a western nutritional staple to be found only in some urban restaurants and homes in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the absence of reliable electricity supply, the tropical heat and humidity that allows vegetables to grow so abundantly also make it almost impossible to store them in fresh condition for more than a day or two. We, therefore cook vegetables, particularly green ones, in soups and sauces that come loaded with oily calories and salt. A lot of the great nutrients in raw vegetables are lost in the process of cooking them.
Here are some reasons to rethink how you prepare vegetables and make a bit more effort to include fruits and vegetables in your daily diet.
- Vegetables and fruits are rich sources of many nutrients, such as vitamins A & C, Folate (folic acid), potassium, and dietary fiber.
- Vegetables and fruits are low in calories, fat, and salt and do not contain cholesterol. (calories, salt, and fat come from the sauces and soups we cook them in)
- Diets high potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Excellent sources of potassium include tomatoes, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, beans, beet greens, soybeans, spinach, and lentils.
- Dietary fiber from vegetables and whole or cut-up fruits, as part of a healthy diet:
– helps to cut down blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease.
– Is important for proper bowel function to reduce constipation and diverticulosis.
– Fiber-containing foods like fruits and vegetables make you feel full when you eat and have fewer calories
– Diets with high fiber can lower your risk of diabetes and obesity
- Folate (folic acid) helps the body make red blood cells. Women of childbearing age and menstruating adolescent girls should consume adequate folate from foods. Women who could become pregnant should add 400mcg folic acid supplement to lower the risk of neurological defects in the unborn baby.
- Vitamin A is necessary for skin and eye health. It also protects against infections.
- Vitamin C allows cuts and wounds to heal and keeps teeth and gums healthy. It also improves absorption of iron from food.
- A healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke and protect against some cancers.
There is overwhelming scientific evidence to support the daily addition of vegetables and fruits to complete a healthy diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that half of your plate of food should contain vegetables and fruits.
Some things to remember:
- Even 100% juice has very little or no dietary fiber. It’s better to eat whole or cut-up fruit.
- Steamed or raw vegetables retain more nutrients than when boiled in water. When cooking soup, add the vegetables directly to the soup instead of blanching it first in boiling water.
- Adults and children who exercise less than 30 minutes a day (aside from regular daily activities) should eat no more than 1 ½ – 2 cups of fruit a day because of the sugar content.
- Individuals with diabetes should also get guidelines from their doctor regarding how much fruit to consume daily