Nutrition Fact Sheet

Remember the "eat your vegetables" routine at the dinner table? Well, guess what -- this childhood advice is now supported by scientific research.

Health experts now recommend that we eat at least three to five servings of vegetables every day and two to three servings of fruit. Here's why:

Vegetables and fruits are:

  • low in fat
  • cholesterol free
  • low in calories
  • loaded with vitamins and minerals
  • great sources of fiber

Scientists believe this advice alone would go a long way toward improving Americans' health. Adding to this good news is that vegetables also contain phytochemicals (say: "fit-o-chemicals") and antioxidant vitamins. A tomato, for example, contains about 10,000 phytochemicals, and a bite of broccoli or brussels sprouts serves up thousands of phytochemicals.

What are phytochemicals and antioxidant vitamins? Phytochemicals simply refers to chemicals found in plants. You won't need to go shopping for them because they occur naturally in vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds. Scientists believe these plant chemicals may protect our cells from the damaging effects of toxic substances that can result in cancer and heart disease and foster the aging process.

Vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene are examples of phytochemicals. They are better known as antioxidant nutrients. Research suggests that people tend to develop fewer cancers when their diets contain antioxidant-rich foods. Other studies suggest that the antioxidant vitamins in vegetables and other plant foods may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

So, the best advice to ensure your personal health is to eat a wide variety of plant foods, including vegetables and fruits. As a result, antioxidant vitamins will be among the many benefits you'll receive.

For a delicious array of foods rich in those cell-protecting antioxidants, check out the list below. Think of it as personal health insurance that's easy to swallow!

Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Choose yellow-orange and dark-green leafy vegetables and fruits:

  • carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce
  • apricots, cantaloupe, papayas, peaches

Vitamin C

  • broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, green peppers, potatoes
  • citrus fruits (such as oranges and grapefruits), strawberries, cantaloupe

Vitamin E

  • dark-green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce
  • apples, apricots, nectarines, peaches
  • whole-grain breads and cereals
  • nuts and seeds like almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds

Your Best Bet
Remember, the best way to get phytochemicals and antioxidant vitamins, as well as other nutrients, is to eat a wide variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, and grains. One serving equals about one-half cup cooked or raw vegetables, one cup leafy vegetables, a medium piece of fruit, one-half cup canned fruit, a slice of bread, or one-half cup cooked rice or pasta. Check out the veggie tips and recipe below. One serving of this minestrone soup provides 50 percent of your daily needs for beta-carotene and vitamin C. You'll discover how easy it is to eat your vegetables after all.

Quick Veggie Tips

  • Stuff your favorite omelet with low-fat shredded cheese, tomatoes, and frozen spinach (that has been cooked and drained). Garnish with strawberries or peaches.
  • For a tasty salad, cook several frozen or fresh vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, brussels sprouts), until tender and crisp. Add one-half cup prepared Italian dressing per pound of vegetables. Mix well and refrigerate until chilled. Use low-fat or nonfat dressing.
  • Turn your family's favorite main dish casserole into a nutritious, blue-ribbon winner by adding one cup frozen or canned mixed vegetables. Be sure to look for the veggie blends that include cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots.
  • Stuff your favorite spud with antioxidant-rich toppings such as stewed tomatoes, green and red peppers, onions, broccoli, and low-fat cheese.