What's So Great About Fruits and Vegetables Anyway?

Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are good for us. But why?


What follows are a few talking points to help answer that question. (When responding to kids a little bit reluctant to try them, it’s a good idea to avoid “Because I said so” or “They just are.”) Information is persuasive and in some cases may convince a skeptical seven-year-old —on her own—to decide to try just a bite of a "hated" vegetable (although certainly other strategies might work better. We'll get to those later).


Specific types of vegetables are especially important because they contain high levels of nutrients known to be lacking in the diets of young children. These include leafy dark green vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach, and deep yellow vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes.


A diet high in fruits and vegetables may cut a child’s risk of heart disease and ward off clogged arteries later in life, protect against many childhood illnesses, and help set the stage for a child to have healthier eating habits later in life when the consequences of a lousy diet are most pronounced.


Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and fat, so you can eat more of them and not have to worry so much about gaining unwanted weight or eating too many calories. In fact, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can a play a very important role in managing weight.


FIBER

Diets rich in dietary fiber have been shown to have a number of beneficial effects, including decreased risk of coronary artery disease. Fiber also helps food move through the digestive tract, and that makes going to the bathroom easier.


Good fruit and vegetable sources: navy beans, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, lima beans, white beans, soybeans, split peas, chick peas, black-eyed peas, lentils, artichokes, dates, raspberries, pears, and apples.


A rough estimate of how much fiber (in grams) your child needs per day is his age (years) + 5 (for example, a 4-year-old needs about 9 grams of fiber). Adults need between 25-35 grams of fiber per day. (Most get nowhere near that)

POTASSIUM

Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain a healthy blood pressure.


Good fruit and vegetable sources: sweet potatoes, tomato paste, tomato puree, beet greens, white potatoes, white beans, lima beans, cooked greens, bananas

VITAMIN A

Vitamin A keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections.


Good fruit and vegetable sources: sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, collard greens, winter squash, cantaloupe, red peppers, and Chinese cabbage

VITAMIN C

Vitamin C helps heal cuts and scrapes and keeps gums and teeth healthy.


Good fruit and vegetable sources: red and green peppers, kiwi, strawberries, sweet potatoes, kale, cantaloupe, broccoli, pineapple, Brussels sprouts, oranges, mangoes, tomato juice, and cauliflower

IRON

Iron is very important for a child’s developing brain, and it also helps the body use energy. Many children are iron-deficient (anemic) due to poor intake of iron-rich foods. Also, iron is poorly absorbed, but absorption can be greatly increased by pairing an iron-rich food with a food high in vitamin C.


Good fruit and vegetable sources: spinach and other leafy dark green vegetables, beans, peas, and dried apricots Other sources: fortified cereals and breads, lean beef, and eggs

The average child needs about 10 mg of iron per day.

CALCIUM

Calcium is important for strong bones and teeth. Childhood and young adulthood offer the only opportunities for us to build bone strength. After that, the goal is to prevent bones from weakening.


Good vegetable sources: broccoli, kale, and other leafy dark green vegetables, soybeans, and tofu

Other sources: milk, yogurt, cheese, sardines, and frozen yogurt

Kids need 500 to 800 mg of calcium per day depending on their age.


For more information, visit www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/benefits/nutrient_guide.html.

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