There are a host of vitamin supplements available in the stores. There may be reasons for you to take one or more vitamin supplements. I encourage you to talk with your doctor about that. However, don't fall into the trap that just because you are taking a multi-vitamin, you don't need to eat a healthy assortment of fruits and vegetables. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Whole foods contain hundreds of biologically active substances that work together in amazingly complex ways to keep us healthy. Taking one of those substances out (e.g. vitamin C), bottling it and then ingesting it does not mean that you've gotten all of the benefits of the fruit or vegetable. In fact, when you extract a vitamin from a whole food, the vitamin may work very differently in the body. It may be that another substance in the whole food is needed to activate the vitamin in order to make it healthy.
While it is not always clear that taking vitamin supplements is always good, it has become clear that eating fruits and vegetables is healthy. The American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society each recommend eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture recommend 9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day for men, and 7 for women. I recommend 7-12 servings per day. A serving is approximately the amount that would fit in the palm of your hand, or the amount found in a small glass of vegetable or fruit juice.
Consider that the Harvard-based Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals' Follow-up Study, which is the largest study to date, found that people who consumed eight or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day were 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke than where those who consumed 1.5 servings of fruits nad vegetables per day. Consider also that the average American only consumes 3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (not counting potatoes, which are considered primarily a starch).
Which fruits and vegetables should you eat? For a detailed discussion of this, I encourage you to read my book.
In general, purple, blue, and red colored fruits have been shown to have the highest concentrations of antioxidants (which, for our purposes here, we can use as a surrogate for anti-inflammatory power). Blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, and red grapes are excellent examples of fruits with particularly high antioxidant levels. However, before getting too worked up over which individual fruits and vegetables to eat, I would simply encourage you to start by eating a wide variety of them. The following are some tips extracted from my book about how to painlessly increase your fruits and vegetable intake:
- Eat a new fruit or vegetable every day
- Eat vegetable soup
- If your doctor says it is okay for you to do so, consider eating only fruit in the morning. This appears to stop the craving for coffee and sweets in the morning as well.
- A juicer is a good way to get a few extra servings of fruit and vegetables. Try making a smoothie with low-fat ice cream.
- Bring a zip-locked bag of vegetables with you to work and snack on them during the day.
- Challenge yourself to see how many different colored fruits and vegetables you can eat in a day.