Five a Day for Better Health

By Melvin D. Epp, Ph.D.

As a health incentive, during the month of November 2001, each Center staff member was encouraged to focus on the fruits and vegetables they consumed. From November 2 through November 25, 2001, staff members marked on calendar sheets the vegetables and fruits that they ate on a daily basis. This exercise was meant to highlight the contribution of diet as a primary component of our overall individual health strategy.

Vegetables and fruits are the major sources of phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals within our diets.

During the period of this study, The Center’s Taste of Health Restaurant served 14 lunches. The staff or guests who ate a serving of soup (always the second one listed on the published November 2001 TOH menu) and a serving of each item on the buffet would have eaten daily 9 to 17 different kinds of vegetables and 8 to 9 different fruits. Lunch at the Taste of Health is a healthful indulgence.

Vegetables and fruits are the major sources of phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals within our diets. Grains are typically the major source of calories. Within the past 10 to 15 years, many chemical compounds of plant origin have been identified and shown to have healthful benefits if consumed. If the benefit is nutritional, the compounds are generically called phytonutrients. By now hundreds of these compounds have been identified. If the compounds scavenge free radicals and oxygen moieties, the compounds are said to have antioxidant activity.

Each vegetable and each fruit has a unique profile of some of the numerous phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. For our nutritional completeness and balance, it is advantageous to eat many different kinds of fruits and vegetables on a routine basis. Research continues to verify that what and how much we eat profoundly affects growth, development, aging, and the ability to enjoy life to its fullest.

Human nutrition science is changing its emphasis from the prevention of nutrient deficiencies to an emphasis on health-maintenance and reduced risks of chronic diseases. Among the diseases linked strongly to diet, the cost for medical treatment and care exceeds $200 billion per year. The annual economic impact of cardiovascular disease in the U.S. exceeds $80 billion, that of obesity exceeds $86 billion, osteoporosis $10 billion for care alone, cancer $l04 billion, and cataract surgery $4 billion. The American Cancer Society estimated in 1996 that one-third of the 500,000 cancer deaths annually in the U.S. are due to a variety of dietary factors.

Numerous audio and video tapes are available through The Center’s cyber store at that discuss aspects of nutritional intervention for the maladies mentioned above. Examples include “Heart Biomarkers” (#2896), “Weight Management” (#2970), “Getting it Off, Keeping it Off’ (#3005), “Hormone Replacement Therapy” (#2988), “Nutrition and Cancer Prevention” (#2787), and “Eye Health” (#2901).

There are several excellent sets of recommendations to help us judge the adequacy of our intake of fruits and vegetables. The USDA1 suggests that those on a typical 2,200 calories diet should include 4 servings of vegetables and 3 servings of fruit every day. Spread out over three meals per day, this appears rather easily doable, does it not?

For teen boys and active men who require a diet of 2,800 calories, the USDA1 recommends the consumption daily of 5 vegetables and 4 fruits. There are other guidelines. The National Cancer Institute and the Produce for Better Health Foundation, a nonprofit consumer education foundation representing the fruit and vegetable industry, have created a national 5 A Day for Better Health Program. Their message is simple and positive – eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day for better health. Eating 5 or more servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables is also the first suggestion in the dietary guidelines of the American Heart Association Eating Plan for Healthy Americans.

In the book, Dr. Gaynor’s Cancer Prevention Program, Dr. Gaynor recommends 6-8 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Dr. Gaynor further defines the type or composition of these servings and suggests that the 42 to 56 weekly servings should include these vegetables and fruits and at these minimal frequencies.

Type or composition/Servings Per Week

Cruciferous vegetables/4
Garlic, onions, shallots, or leek/4
Peas or soybean foods/6
Carotenoid containing vegetables/4
Citrus fruits/4
Green, leafy vegetables/4
Beans (dry legumes)/3

Cruciferous vegetables. Dr.Gaynor defines this category to include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, and kale. Also included would be collards, mustard greens, radishes, turnips, and turnip greens.

Garlic, onions, shallots, or leek. Dr. Gaynor recommends 4 servings from this garlic group. Along with soy products, cruciferous vegetables, and green tea, the garlic family is among the healthiest of foods and the most promising of anticancer phytonutrients. The super constituents of this group appear to be its thiolallyl sulfur-containing compounds. Onions also contain a fair amount of vitamin C.

Melons. Melons are rich in carotenoids, i.e., antioxidants.

Peas or soybean foods. Soybeans were not embraced by Western cultures until their nutritive value was discovered. Because they are inexpensive and nutrition-packed, soybeans are used to produce a wide variety of products including tofu (soybean curd), soy flour, soymilk, soy sauce, miso, and tamari. They can also be sprouted and used in salads or as a cooked vegetable. Dr. Gaynor recommends 6 servings per week.

Carotenoid-containing vegetables. The carotenoid-containing vegetables were defined to include beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, squash, spinach, sweet potato, Swiss chard, tomatoes, turnip greens, seaweed, and plankton. Getting 4 servings per week of these familiar vegetables should be easy.

Citrus fruits. Citrus fruits are replete with phytonutrients and antioxidants. Oranges contain limonene, pinane, limonin, numilin, and isolimonic acid. These are tongue twisters that are beneficial for our health.

Green leafy vegetables. Any of the following green, leafy vegetables used in 4 salads per week or prepared any other way would qualify for this category: bok choy, cabbage, green mixed salad, kale, lettuce, mixed greens, parsley, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnip greens.

Apples. The old adage, “An apple a day … “, continues to have meaning in the 21 st century.

Tomatoes. Dr. Gaynor recommends 3 servings of tomatoes per week. Tomatoes are chock-full of lycopene, isocoumarin, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

Beans (dry legumes).  Beans are high in mineral content and dietary fiber.

There is one final recommendation that will be considered. In the book Syndrome X, 5 the Anti-X Principle 3 suggests an emphasis on non-starchy vegetables in your diet. This guideline targets weight and blood sugar control. Non-starchy vegetables are substantially lower in carbohydrates and calories. They are very nutrient dense and supply a lot of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals with proportionately few calories. Non-starchy vegetables are also digested slowly and have a low glycemic index. Included with the non-starchy vegetables would be the leafy green vegetables, the cruciferous vegetables, celery, cucumbers, green beans, mushrooms, okra, peppers, summer squash, and tomatoes. The starchy vegetables would include root crops, nuts, dry beans, pumpkins, and winter squash.

In conclusion, there is value in periodically being reminded that the foods we eat will impact our health, both short and long term. Consciously selecting a diet that emphasizes vegetables and fruits is a critical step towards supplying our nutritional requirements for personal health and an energetic lifestyle.

3. http://www
4. Gaynor, ML and J Hickey. 1999. Dr.Gaynor’s Cancer Prevention Program.Kensington Books, NY.
5. Challem, J. et. aI. 2000. Syndrome X. John Wiley & Son, Inc., NY