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Follow the Five-a-Day Rule by Cheryl Koch, M.S., R.D.

Ever heard of the "five-a-day" rule? It refers to the recommended minimum of five servings a day of fruits and vegetables to get the most benefit from our diet. That's easy to remember, but apparently hard to do as only 25 percent of Americans manage to meet this recommendation. Clearly, we've got work to do in order to improve the quality of our diets so that we can live healthier lives.

Healthy eating patterns can reduce the risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke and many other diseases. Poor eating habits, on the other hand, lead to obesity, a lack of energy, and increased risk for health problems.

In addition to getting necessary fiber and nutrients, here's a newer reason to follow the five-a-day rule: many fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals, natural compounds found in plants that are associated with prevention of disease.

No one really understands how many phytochemicals there are or how they all function. Thousands have been identified already. Familiar ones are the antioxidant beta-carotene, which the body uses to make Vitamin A and is found in yellow and orange vegetables, and lycopene, found in tomatoes and other red fruits. Consumption of these phytochemicals has established benefits, such as lowering the risk for heart disease, and also has been linked to diminished risk of some cancers, although research has not yet established a certain causal relationship.

As the emerging benefits of phytochemicals become more widely known, drugstores are filling their shelves with phytochemical supplements. Taking a pill to get the benefits linked with phytochemical consumption may seem convenient, but it's important to get these chemicals from real foods.

We have not yet discovered all of the phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetables. Taking a pill with beta-carotene and lycopene provides only those two phytochemicals; a salad with tomato and shredded carrots gives us many more. In addition, studies show that supplements are not nearly as beneficial as foods containing phytochemicals, and in some cases the supplements were even found to be detrimental.


Cheryl Koch, a registered dietitian and director of the food and clinical nutrition programs at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Posted on 19 Nov 2006 by coachgianni
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