Fruits and vegetables are amazing- but the benefit you get from them may have a lot to do with what else you’re eating (or not eating).
Almost everyone knows that eating more fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to insure a long and healthy life and to lower the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Vegetables and fruits are among the best sources of fiber, antioxidants and disease-fighting phytochemicals on earth.
But are you getting the most out of your fruits and vegetables? If you’re cutting out all the fat in your diet you may not be. It turns out that some of the very best stuff in fruits and vegetables are what’s called “fat-soluble”. That means these powerful cancer-fighting compounds need fat in order to be absorbed. If you don’t have some fat in the meal, all these wonderful compounds are missed.
The vitamin C in fruits and vegetables is water-soluble, so it is unaffected by dietary fat. But beta-carotene and the other carotenoids, as well as vitamin E, are fat-soluble and require some fat for best absorption from the digestive tract. And you don’t need that much- a teaspoon of oil, three ounces of poultry (or other lean protein), an egg, or a tablespoon of nuts will do it!
In one recent study at the University of Michigan, four groups of women consumed varying amounts of fruits and vegetables with a diet of either 30% fat or 16% fat. While some nutrients were not affected by the fat content of the diet, some other extremely important nutrients decreased noticeably on the lower fat diet, including a very important form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherol which seems to be anti-inflammatory and may even stimulate self-destruction of cancer cells. On the low-fat diet, gamma-tocopherol dropped by more than 50 percent. We get gamma-tocopherol from pistachios, pecans, walnuts and peanuts, as well as a small amount from avocados. In other research at Ohio State University, adding some avocado to a fat-free salsa significantly increased the absorption of two important cancer fighting antioxidants, lycopene and beta-carotene.
Some fat-soluble antioxidants that are better absorbed by the body if consumed with a little fat:
- Lutein (spinach and kale)
- Beta carotene (carrots, canteloupe)
- Lycopene (tomatoes)
- Zeaxanthin (spinach, kale)
- Vitamin E (broccoli, spinach, walnuts, pistachios)
Bottom line: A hard boiled egg or some olive oil on that spinach salad will increase its value to your body!