Fruit and vegetables should be an important part of your daily diet. They are naturally good and contain vitamins and minerals that can help to keep you healthy. They can also help protect against some diseases.
Most Australians will benefit from eating more fruit and vegetables as part of a well-balanced, healthy diet and an active lifestyle. There are many varieties of fruit and vegetables available and many ways to prepare, cook and serve them.
Fruit and vegetables are best bought when they are in season. Otherwise try frozen or canned vegetables as they are just as nutritious and budget-friendly as well.
You should eat at least 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit each day. Choose different colours and varieties.
If you are someone who doesn’t look forward to eating fruit or vegetables, start slowly with those you do like. Try serving, flavouring or cooking them in different ways. You can also disguise them in sauces, minced meals or curries.
Vitamins and minerals in fruit and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals that are good for your health. Many of these are antioxidants, and may reduce the risk of many diseases:
vitamin A (beta-carotene)
Folic acid may reduce blood levels of homocysteine, a substance that may be a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
Research has shown that consuming these nutrients as food, within fruits and vegetables, is more beneficial for health than consuming them as supplements.
Fruit and vegetables for good health
Fruits and vegetables are low in fat, salt and sugar. They are a good source of dietary fibre, which can make you feel fuller for longer and prevent overconsumption of food. As part of a well-balanced, healthy diet and an active lifestyle, a high intake of fruit and vegetables can help you to:
reduce obesity and maintain a healthy weight
lower your cholesterol
lower your blood pressure.
Fruit and vegetables and protection against diseases
Vegetables and fruit contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, or plant chemicals. These biologically active substances can help to protect you from some diseases.
Scientific research shows that if you regularly eat lots of fruit and vegetables, you have a lower risk of:
type 2 diabetes
heart (cardiovascular) disease
cancer – some forms of cancer, especially bowel, stomach and throat cancers later in life
high blood pressure (hypertension).
Types of fruit
Fruit is the sweet, fleshy, edible part of a plant. It generally contains seeds. Fruits are usually eaten raw, although some varieties can be cooked. They come in a wide variety of colours, shapes and flavours. Common types of fruits that are readily available include:
apples and pears
citrus – oranges, grapefruits, mandarins and limes
stone fruit – nectarines, apricots, peaches and plums
tropical and exotic – bananas and mangoes
berries – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwifruit and passionfruit
melons – watermelons, rockmelons and honeydew melons
tomatoes and avocados.
Types of vegetables
Vegetables are available in many varieties and can be classified into biological groups or ‘families’, including:
leafy green – lettuce, spinach and silverbeet
cruciferous – cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli
marrow – pumpkin, cucumber and zucchini
root – potato, sweet potato and yam
edible plant stem – celery and asparagus
allium – onion, garlic and shallot.
Legumes or pulses contain nutrients that are especially valuable. Legumes need to be cooked before they are eaten – this improves their nutritional quality, aids digestion and eliminates any harmful toxins. Legumes come in many forms including:
dried beans and peas – haricot beans, red kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils
fresh beans and peas – green peas, green beans, butter beans, broad beans and snow peas.
Colours of fruits and vegetables
Foods of similar colours generally contain similar protective compounds. Try to eat a rainbow of colourful fruits and vegetables every day to get the full range of health benefits. For example:
red foods – like tomatoes and watermelon. These contain lycopene, which is thought to be important for fighting prostate cancer and heart disease
green vegetables – like spinach and kale. These contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help protect against age-related eye disease
blue and purple foods – like blueberries and eggplant. These contain anthocyanins, which may help protect the body from cancer
white foods – like cauliflower. These contain sulforaphane and may also help protect against some cancers.
Selecting fruits and vegetables
To maximise nutrients and appeal, buy and serve different types of fruit and vegetables. Try to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, and choose for freshness and quality. You should:
Eat with the seasons – this is nature’s way of making sure our bodies get a healthy mix of nutrients and plant chemicals.
Try something new – try new recipes and buy new fruit or vegetables as part of your weekly shopping.
Let colours guide you – get different combinations of nutrients by putting a ‘rainbow’ of colours (green, white, yellow–orange, blue–purple, red) on your plate.
Fruit and vegetable serving suggestions for your family’s health
Some examples of serving sizes of fruits and vegetables include:
½ cup cooked green or orange vegetables (for example, broccoli, spinach, carrots or pumpkin)
½ cup cooked dried or canned beans, peas or lentils (preferably with no added salt)
1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear
2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums
1 cup diced or canned fruit (no added sugar)
125ml (½ cup) fruit juice (no added sugar) – only occasionally
30g dried fruit (for example, 4 dried apricot halves, 1½ tablespoons of sultanas) – only occasionally.
Vegetables and fruit are a handy snack food and are easily carried to work or school. Include them in everyone’s meals and snacks for a healthy, well-balanced diet. Some suggestions include:
Keep snack-size fruit and vegetable portions easily accessible in your fridge.
Keep fresh fruit on the bench or table.
Add fruit and vegetables to your favourite family recipes or as additions to your usual menus.
Use the colour and texture of a variety of fruit and vegetables to add interest to your meals.
Think up new ways to serve fruits and vegetables. Try serving, flavouring or cooking them in different ways. You can also disguise them in sauces, minced meals or curries.
Frozen or canned vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh, and are a convenient, budget friendly option as well.
Make simple changes every day. Try adding salad to sandwiches, or having extra vegetables with dinner.
Some simple ways to serve fruits and vegetables include:
fruit and vegetable salads
vegetable or meat-and-vegetable stir-fries
raw fruit and vegetables
snack pack, stewed or canned fruits or dried fruits.
Limit fruit juice, as it does not contain the same amount of nutrients as fresh fruit. It also contains a lot of sugars. These sugars are not necessarily good for your health, even though they are ‘natural’. Instead, have a drink of water and a serve of fruit.
Preparation and cooking of fruit and vegetables
Vegetables are often cooked, although some kinds are eaten raw. Cooking and processing can damage some nutrients and phytochemicals in plant foods.
Suggestions to get the best out of your fruit and vegetables include:
Eat raw vegetables and fruits if possible.
Try fruit or vegetables pureed into smoothies.
Use a sharp knife to cut fresh fruits to avoid bruising.
Cut off only the inedible parts of vegetables – sometimes the best nutrients are found in the skin, just below the skin or in the leaves.
Use stir-fry, grill, microwave, bake or steam methods with non-stick cookware and mono-unsaturated oils.
Do not overcook, to reduce nutrient loss.
Serve meals with vegetable pestos, salsas, chutneys and vinegars in place of sour cream, butter and creamy sauces.
Some nutrients such as carotenoids may actually be increased if food is cooked. For example, tomato has more carotenoids, especially lycopene, when it is cooked – a good reason to prepare fruits and vegetables in a variety of ways.
Once you’ve prepared and cooked your vegetables and fruit, spend some time on presentation. People are more likely to enjoy a meal if it’s full of variety and visually appealing, as well as tasty.
Meals with others tend to include more foods from the 5 food groups. For example, people often report that they can’t be bothered cooking vegetables just for themselves.
Sit at the table to eat and enjoy your food without distractions like television. Television watching is associated with eating more discretionary choices like takeaway or convenience foods and fewer foods from the 5 food groups. It also makes it much more difficult to recognise and respond to our body’s signals about hunger and fullness (satiety).
Daily allowances of fruit and vegetables
Different fruits and vegetables contain different nutrients. The Australian dietary guidelines recommend that adults eat at least 5 kinds of vegetable and 2 kinds of fruit every day.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that adults eat at least 400g, or 5 portions, of fruit and vegetables (excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes and other starchy roots) per day to reduce the risk of disease. This amount of fruits and vegetables also ensures adequate fibre intake and can also reduce total sugar intake.
A national nutrition survey conducted by the Australian Government showed only 6.8% of Australians eat the recommended amount of vegetables, whilst just over half (54%) met the recommendations for usual serves of fruit.
Children and teenagers have special food needs because they are growing and developing. They also need extra energy for playing and being more active. Even though they need more energy, children have a smaller stomach capacity than adults and cannot eat the same serving sizes. However, you should encourage your children to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
By eating well, your children will have the energy they need to play, concentrate better, learn, sleep better and build stronger teeth and bones. Building good habits in their early years can also provide the protection of a healthy diet throughout their lives.
Childcare and school lunchboxes, like meals and snacks at home, should continue to reflect the 5 food groups and not include discretionary foods and drinks.