Fruits and vegetables offer up natural plant compounds that help keep the body healthy, and variety is key.
If you’re not a big fan of vegetables, you might think that you can make up for it by eating lots of fruit. It’s easy to see why – we almost always mention them in the same breath and, since they’re healthy plant foods, it’s natural to assume that they’re more or less interchangeable in terms of providing the nutrients the body needs.
And to some extent that’s true. You can get your vitamin C just as easily from berries as from broccoli; potassium lurks in both beetroot and bananas. But fruits and veg also offer up a dizzying (and varied) array of phytonutrients – natural plant compounds that can promote good health. So getting the broadest range of phytonutrients is a lot more likely if you’re eating both fruits and vegetables.
Phytonutrients are responsible for the flavours and colours in fruits and vegetables. And when you think about fruits and vegetables more from the standpoint of the huge range of flavours and hues they provide – and not so much as simply sources of vitamins and minerals – you can begin to appreciate how dissimilar they really are.
Berries and broccoli, for example, may look similar when it comes to their vitamin C content, but their phytonutrient profiles couldn’t be more different. Berries get their red-purple colour from compounds called anthocyanins – which are a lot more widespread in fruits than in vegetables. On the other hand, isothiocyanates are the phytonutrients responsible for the strong odours found in broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower – but you won’t find these smelly compounds in fruits. Another natural pigment, lycopene, gives a rich red colour to fruits like tomato (yes, it’s a fruit), pink grapefruit and guava, but you’d be hard-pressed to find much in most vegetables.
Plenty of people assume that eating fruits OR vegetables is just as good as eating fruits AND vegetables – the above examples highlight why it’s important to get some variety in your diet to give your body as many nutrients as possible.