Unbalancing Act

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How do fruits keep the doctor away?

As agriculture raises a crop of controversies, it also cultivates an array of fruits and vegetables that combat disease. How many times have you heard, "Eat your fruits

Apples. Source: USDA (Scott Bauer)
Source: USDA (Scott Bauer)

and vegetables. They're good for you"? This is truer than most people know. Fruits and vegetables are so good for you, they can even be considered a medicine—a powerful preventative medicine that keeps you from getting sick.

You know that eating good food gives you energy, helps you grow, look good, and stay healthy. But did you know that countless studies show that eating fruits and vegetables every day cuts back on your chances of heart disease, stroke, and cancer—the three leading killers in the United States?

Apples. Source: USDA
Source: USDA

How do fruits and vegetables do this? Scientists are just beginning to find out, and they are finding some amazing answers. The pigment, or color, in the fruits and vegetables contains phytochemicals, including antioxidants that prevent cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants have been called many things: cancer inhibitors, cholesterol regulators, anti-inflammatories, and brain-cell protectors. These are a lot of big words for "They help keep you healthy!"

Most of the time we hear about food organized by categories, such as dairy or meat. Fruits and vegetables can be organized by color, too. The spectrum of colors, much like a rainbow, includes: Source: USDA (Image left) Source: USDA (Scott Bauer) (Image right)

D03_health3 D03_health4
yellow-orange red
D03_health5 D03_health6
green blue-purple

White onions and garlic round out the palette.

The National Cancer Institute gives us a simple rule in selecting fruits and vegetables: the brighter the better. The most intensely colored fruits and vegetables have the highest levels of protective chemicals. Spinach, for example, is practically a one-stop pharmacy. It delivers at least three antioxidants, including the yellow color lutein, which helps prevent some eye problems. And studies show that lycopene, the red color in tomatoes, may protect against some cancers and heart disease.

For decades, kids have resisted spinach, touted by adults as healthy and good for you. Turn up the volume to hear how child actress Shirley Temple responded in her 1936 song, "You Gotta Eat Your Spinach."

You've got to eat your Spinach baby
No No No No, I'm singing to you
No No No No Hallelujah
Spinach stay away from my door