What are the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables?
Posted on March 22nd, 2012

DR  Hector Perera    London

Due to their nutritional and health benefits, it’s recommended that fruit and vegetables form the basis of our diet, with a minimum intake of five portions each day that is about a third of our daily food consumption. My mind went back to Sri Lanka, those days we never thought about the importance of these fruits and vegetables, just ate simply because they were available in plentiful. I lost count the varieties of fruits and vegetables available in the market. Some of these fruits were plentiful or available only in certain time of the year for example, “rambutan, mangusteen” are just two delicious fruits.

The doctors say that fruits and vegetables should be incorporated into every meal, as well as being the first choice for a snack. Population studies in UK have shown that people who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables may have a lower risk of chronic diseases, such as heart diseases and some other low risk diseases. In Sri Lanka, long before these supermarkets came to the high streets in little towns; just markets were the popular places for fruits, vegetable, fish, meat even for groceries. The traditional weekly fair or, “Pola” is a busy place, packed with people of all ages. There were heaps of fruits and vegetables and even dry fish at absolutely give away prices.

How many varieties of vegetables are found in local markets, too many to list them. Some of the quite common vegetables are such as Centinella Asiatica or gotukola, kang kung, Mukunuwenna, Aubergine or brinjol,  Dudhi or white pumpkin is kind of “labu”, Gisuri or ridged gourd or “vetakolu”, Karela or bitter gourd or bitter melon, bottle gourds or labu [trichosathes cucumerian], ashgourd or Puhul,  Mooli or white raddish, Moringa or drumstick or “murunga”, Okra or bhindi or ladies fingers, pumpkins, long beans, broad beans, carrots, turnip, malu miris, tomatoes and  green beans.

These fruits and vegetables and many more are plentiful in Sri Lankan, “Pola” but now they have found the way to foreign countries as well. One thing I can say, in UK these vegetables cost more than or same as chicken, beef and fish.

An easy vegetable dish is made by cutting  two malu mirtis, two carrots, one or two tomatoes, a few fresh onion leaves into a cooking pan then add quarter tea spoonful of curry power or turmeric, a pinch of salt, a little tamarind, some curry leaves, a piece of cinnamon and one tea spoonful of olive oil or coconut oil. Only if available add two tablespoonfuls of coconut milk and a fistful of Maldives fish otherwise don’t worry. Note no water is added in this preparation. Mix gently before heating so there is good contact among the ingredients. I expect this to be cooked scientifically. Put the lid on and leave it at low fire for a few minutes. If it shows traces of steam escaping gently out of the lid, you have set the fire adjustment correctly. Try not to open at all for the next ten minutes. You are free to do something else until it is cooked, then just shut the fire after ten minutes; you might be tempted to open but leaves it for a while unless you need a shower of curry flavour. You might have other things to do then come back after another five minutes, by this time the steam has settled and slowly cooked. If you opened while cooking some volatile chemical ingredients escape, the things dry up and burn, the smell probably deposit on you as well. Try and practice this method and if possible please let me know how it worked. Don’t you get your five vegetables here in a healthy way?

 

When I visited my mum’s house in a village in Gampaha, we went to the market in Gampaha, for shopping and the place is still popular with local people. The place is never short of fresh fruits, vegetables and all other daily essentials at competitive prices with compared to supermarkets.

 HYPERLINK “http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/conditions/in_dHealth benefits can be gained from fresh, canned (in natural juice), frozen, cooked, juiced or dried versions. They say potatoes don’t count though, as they’re a starch food but what about all other yams such as sweet potatoes, maniocs, “kiri ala, innala” and many more varieties of yams that the scientist in UK and America even might not have seen or heard? Some of these fruits and vegetables are now in Asian shops even when you are abroad.

Why are they important?

Fruit and vegetables of differing colours contain diverse mixtures of phyto-nutrients (protective plant compounds). These can act as powerful antioxidants, protecting the body from harmful free radicals and helping to protect against certain chronic diseases such as cancer. Some fruit and vegetables are labeled as ‘super foods’ because they contain high concentrations of some phyto-nutrients, particularly antioxidants, which appear to be beneficial to health.

Things such as blueberries – contain flavonoids that can improve circulation and help defend against infections. There are other popular fruits such as papaws, pineapples, tangerines, passion fruits, melons and oranges. How many varieties of bananas to choose? There are plenty of other fruits mainly limited to tropical countries such as jack and “durian”. Sure you can find them in Asian and Chinese shops. Some other fruits are, Avocado or “Aligeta pera”, Custard apple or “Veli anoda”, cashew apple or “kaju puhulan, Pomegranate or “delum”, Pommelo or “jambola” and Sapodilla, “uguressa, lovi and veralu” are also quite common fruits.

We can have a fruit salad made quite easily using about five or six fruits. I usually choose the complimentary flavour fruits such as bananas, oranges, passion fruits, pineapples, apples, pears, grapes to make a tasty fruit salad. It’s quite simple, just slice two or three apple bananas, one orange, a slice or two papaw, one mango, a few pieces of pineapples, one apple, one pear, a few grapes and scoop out two passion fruits into a deep bawl and add one table spoon of sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence then mix gently. If possible leave it in a fridge until you are ready to eat. One of the reasons is to slow down the decolorizing actions of chemicals on the fruits.  What you prepared is enough for few people and you didn’t waste that much time in the preparation. So you are capable of making something at home than running to the takeaway shops. Before you eat, dish out a small portion into a fruit salad cup then add one tea spoonful of condensed milk or ice cream or even coconut trickle. I am sure this is a healthy fresh fruit salad. When the juices of different fruits run into each other, when the flavours get mixed, it gives a nice appetizing smell as well. So don’t we get this five a day combination this way?

Among all other dry seeds, sliced or unsliced roasted jack fruits seeds are also now in the market. I still remember they all fall under the trees in local areas, rarely eaten even by cows but they are potential foreign money.

Broccoli – rich in the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene, as well as foliate, all of which can protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Tomatoes – rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that can protect against harmful free radicals.

 

But variety is the key. In addition to these phytonutrients, each variety of fruit and vegetables contains its own combination of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Choosing a variety throughout the day will provide a diverse package of essential nutrients.

Boiled or steamed?

Although fruit and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, many of these essential nutrients can be easily destroyed by heat when cooking and during food preparation. The water soluble vitamins HYPERLINK “http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/treatments/healthy_living/nutrition/dietary_vitwa are especially vulnerable when boiled. One solution is to eat raw vegetables as much as possible, such as raw carrot, celery or peppers. In Sri Lanka there are cucumbers which we usually eat raw in by making salads. When thinly sliced cucumber, onion, tomatoes, green chilies are mixed with regular salad dressing such as ground mustard seeds, pepper, salt and lime juice it gives a quite tasty fresh salad.  Unlike in UK, no salad oils are added to make them tastier. Often, ground Maldives fish also added. When these are freshly prepared, there are no added chemicals or different sauces unlike the bottled or canned products. This kind of fresh salads are healthy and don’t cost you that much either.

When cooking vegetables, try steaming, microwaving or poaching rather than boiling. These methods do not involve immersing them in water, so the maximum amount of nutrients can be retained, as well as their fresh taste. If you prefer to boil vegetables, do so for the minimum amount of time and in as little liquid as possible in order to retain their valuable nutrients. You could also utilise the water used in another part of your dish, such as gravies or stocks, to recapture some of the leached nutrients.

Comments welcomed, perera6@hotmail.co.uk

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