The Power of Early Fruits and Veggies

By Charlyn Fargo

October 30, 2015 6 min read

Parents, our job is to offer our children healthy meals. And while it's up to our children whether they choose to eat those healthy offerings, over time, a new study shows it pays to keep providing healthy meals. Young adults who eat more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day have healthier hearts when they're older, a new study finds.

Researchers divided more than 2,500 young adults into three groups based on how many fruits and vegetables they ate. The study was published in the Oct. 26 journal Circulation.

Some 20 years later, CT scans showed that those who ate the most fruits and vegetables as young adults were 26 percent less likely to have calcified plaque in their arteries than those who ate the least. This plaque is associated with hardening of the arteries, which increases the risk of heart disease.

"People shouldn't assume that they can wait until they're older to eat healthy — our study suggests that what you eat as a young adult may be as important as what you eat as an older adult," said study author Dr. Michael Miedema, senior consulting cardiologist and clinical investigator at the Minneapolis Heart Institute.

Women in the top third consumed an average of nearly nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, while men in this group ate more than seven servings. Among those in the bottom third, women averaged about three servings a day and men averaged about two-and-a-half servings.

The findings are backed by previous research, which found a strong link between higher consumption of fruits and vegetables and lower heart disease risk among middle-age adults. However, researchers say this study is the first to show that eating more fruits and vegetables as a young adult can help protect the heart many years later.

"Our findings support public health initiatives aimed at increasing fruit and vegetable intake as part of a healthy dietary pattern," Miedema wrote. "Further research is needed to determine what other foods impact cardiovascular health in young adults."

Q and A

Q: How long do jars of spices and dried herbs last?

A: Spices and dried herbs do not spoil, but eventually they do lose some of their flavor. Stored as recommended, you can usually count on seeds and whole spices (such as cumin and dill seeds, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks and peppercorns) staying fresh for three or four years. Ground spices (including cinnamon and ground pepper) stay flavorful for one to three years. Hold onto dried green herbs (such as basil and oregano) for six months to three years, watching for fading color and flavor to guide you. Although these seasonings may look attractive displayed over the stove, exposure to heat and moisture can make them lose flavor faster. Instead, store them in airtight containers away from the heat, moisture and light that speed up their deterioration. If you have room in a cabinet or drawer, that is the ideal way to store them. Although research is growing on the potential of herbs and spices as sources of health-protective phytochemicals, it's not clear how content changes during storage. For now, it looks like these shelf life recommendations are advisable to maintain potential health benefits as well as flavor.

Information courtesy of American Institute for Cancer Research.

Recipe

Cooking Light's Holiday Cookbook magazine is always one of my favorites. Here is a lightened up version of sweet potato casserole, just in time for the holidays.

SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE

3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 vanilla bean

6 tablespoons packed brown sugar, divided

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk

Cooking spray

1 cup old-fashioned oats

2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted

11/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Place potatoes in a Dutch oven; cover with cold water to 2 inches above potatoes. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until very tender. Drain; place in a large bowl. Heat oil and butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until butter melts. Split vanilla bean lengthwise; scrape out seeds. Add seeds and vanilla bean pod to oil mixture; cook 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Remove pod; discard. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, cinnamon, and milk to potatoes. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Spoon potato mixture into an 11 by 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Add oats, pecans, flour, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to butter mixture; toss. Sprinkle over potato mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes or until bubbly around the edges. Serves 12 (serving size: about 2/3 cup)

Per serving: 220 calories, 4 g protein, 30 g carbohydrate, 11.4 fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 255 mg sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @Nutrition Rd. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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