Eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables can make a huge difference in helping you lose weight as well as increase your overall health and well-being. Fresh produce is high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and other phytonutrients that help reduce your risk of serious complications while helping you manage your weight. Plus they make you feel energetic and satisfied.
Here’s what’s key about fresh produce:
1. What’s “energy density,” and why is it important? Energy density is the ratio of calories to volume. Bacon, for example, is very high in energy density, making it a poor choice for weight loss, while tomatoes or cantaloupes are very low in energy density and thus beneficial for weight loss. Most fruits and vegetables are low-energy-density foods because of their high content of fiber and water. High water content both hydrates your organs and increases a feeling of fullness from your food, helping you avoid taking in unnecessary calories. According to the Mayo Clinic, half a grapefruit is about 90% water with only 38 calories. A cup of carrots is about 88% water with only 52 calories.
While you might think that high-energy-density, high-calorie foods will make you feel fuller sooner (called satiety), numerous studies reported by the Centers for Disease Control shows the opposite: In one study, those on a low-energy-density diet needed only half the calories to feel full than those on a high-energy-density diet. In another study, those who ate low-energy-density foods such as fruits and vegetables enjoyed 3 times greater weight loss than those who simply ate low-fat foods.
2. Fiber is the key to satiety. Fruits and vegetables are packed with dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is the roughage that makes you feel satisfied without gaining weight. It provides volume that fills you up, so you are less apt to keep reaching for snacks. Fiber also slows your digestion and stabilizes blood sugar levels, thus helping to reduce your risk of developing complications from obesity such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
3. Eating produce lowers your risk of serious diseases. A steady diet of low-fiber, high-calorie foods such as refined carbohydrates spikes blood sugar levels and leads to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when your cells no longer respond to the effects of insulin and lose the ability to transform glucose into energy. It is the precursor to metabolic syndrome and serious diseases caused by chronic inflammation such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The key to avoiding insulin resistance is to make sure you consume plenty of fresh produce high in fiber every day. According to a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is linked to a lowered risk of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
4. Eat whole fruits and veggies — not juice. Eating the whole fruit or vegetable rather than drinking its juice gives you the benefit of fiber and water, which increases the volume without increasing the calories and sugar. Go easy, too, on dried fruit since dehydration reduces its all-important water content and concentrates the sugars. Rehydrate when possible by soaking or stewing dried fruits like prunes and apricots and topping with low-fat plain yogurt for a nice dessert. Given how much fructose (fruit sugar) is already in fruit, it goes without saying that it’s best to avoid all fruits and juices with added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or oils.
5. Organic produce is always the most nourishing. While our factory-style food production has brought us endless choices, it has been at the cost of nutrients. A review of 34 studies found that small-scale organically grown produce has more vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients than conventionally raised produce, and that translates into more healing power. A European study found that organic veggies and fruits have 40% more antioxidants, the compounds that fight free radical damage and inflammation, sources of many chronic diseases.
Whenever possible, choose organic, locally grown produce; it may cost a little more, but your health is worth the price. Plus, organic produce is free from toxic pesticides that can cause or aggravate other health problems.
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