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Mama always said: “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it.” You resented it then, but as it turns out, your mama was right.
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables not only makes us grow up to be big and strong, but it also helps prevent and manage the diseases we get in our later years, according to Debbie Walls, dietician at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
A diet centered on vegetables can prevent so-called “lifestyle” diseases and help patients with chronic illnesses manage them better, Walls said.
Walls tells her patients to eat eight servings of fruits and vegetables daily. But Sylvia Williamson, a licensed practical nurse and representative for a Medicare Advantage Plan for people with chronic illnesses called Care Improvement Plus, requires a little less.
“I go by the pyramid,” Williamson said. “You should have three and a half servings of vegetables a day and three servings of fruit.”
The focus on vegetables in the diet is becoming more common again, as talk surrounds the New American Plate Diet, a diet that treats meat as a side dish and vegetables as the main course, said Debbie Wilburn, Hall County Extension Agent.
Wilburn said people should eat a minimum of two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables each day. She said adding just the minimal amount will reduce a person’s risk for lifestyle diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. It can also help prevent or delay some types of cancers and ease digestive problems like diverticulitis.
“If you ate that much, you would be cutting out a lot of the foods with the fat and sugar and sodium that we should be cutting out anyway,” Wilburn said.
It is especially important for people with chronic illnesses to maintain healthy eating habits. Healthy eating and fitness habits may reduce a chronically ill person’s reliance on medication, Williamson said.
“We find that people with chronic illnesses, they need a healthy diet to help them maintain their strength and maintain their independence longer,” Williamson said.
Williamson will hold a farmer’s market and wellness information session Tuesday to help local residents on the Care Improvement Plus Medicare Advantage plan learn how a healthy lifestyle can help them maintain their illnesses better, said spokeswoman Heather Rudo.
At the event, Williamson said she will teach the plan’s subscribers how to get plenty of exercise without joining a gym, how to read a food label and how to incorporate vegetables into their favorite meals in order to create a healthy diet.
Both Williamson and Walls say that to get the right variety of vitamin-infused vegetables, grab for all the different colors at the supermarket. When in doubt about how to get needed vitamins, at least go for leafy green vegetables, like broccoli and spinach, and beta-carotene rich orange vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and carrots.
Going for the real thing can be more effective than just looking for nutrients in vitamins and supplements, Walls said. There may be nutrients in fruits and vegetables that supplements do not provide and supplements do not provide needed fiber.
“Also, there is a chance with supplements that you can go overboard,” Walls said. “Whereas, with food, people don’t get toxic with that.”
And the fresher the vegetable, the more nutrients it provides. Vegetables that are picked in other countries or states sit for long periods of time after they are harvested. By the time they reach the supermarket they could be sapped of some of their nutrient providing power, Walls said.
When fresh isn’t an option, Walls suggests buying frozen.
But finding fresh vegetables soon should not be hard in Hall County. The county farmers’ market opens for the season Tuesday at 7 a.m.
“Many times, those fruits and vegetables were picked the day before,” Wilburn said.