KEY POINTS:

1. Five servings of fruit and vegetables each day decreases your risk of dying from a chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. 

2. Plants have vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that have important anti-oxidant properties (oxidative stress affects the structure and function of important biomolecules, such as a fatty acids, DNA, or proteins). 

3. Vitamin C is a key anti-oxidant. Foods that are high in vitamin C include bell peppers, guava fruit, leafy green vegetables, kiwi fruit, broccoli, berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, peas, and papayas. 

4. Flavonoids and carotenoids are also powerful anti-oxidants. Foods high in carotenoids include sweet potato, carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, squash, cantaloupe and melons, sweet red and yellow peppers, apricots, peas, and broccoli.

5. Consumption of nuts (full of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and healthy fats) is inversely related to mortality, cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.

Key #2: Eat Mostly Plants

A powerful form of research analysis is something called a meta-analysis. When scientists do research and they publish their results it can be hard to interpret the results unless you’re an expert in the field and you’ve read most of the research studies that have been done in the area and can put the new research in the context of all the previously published data. What a meta-analysis does is to combine the best studies into one big data set to see what patterns emerge from all the high-quality data in a field. Meta analyses are fantastic tools for people trying to make sense of all the research in one area.

Dr. Frank Hu’s team published a meta-analysis that caught my attention. Dr. Hu works at the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Hu tried to determine if there is a relationship between the amount of fruits and vegetables that someone eats and mortality (dying) from all causes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.

Dr. Hu’s analysis tracked more than 833,000 people. His analysis showed that for each serving of fruits and vegetables that you eat, your risk of dying from a chronic disease decreased. Interestingly after 5 servings of fruits and vegetables the risk did not decrease any more. So if you get 5 servings every day you’re good to go! The data showed that eating fruits and vegetables helped to prevent cardiovascular disease, and another research team took this a step further and found that vegetables with red, yellow and orange colours – especially carrots – are particularly powerful at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

If you do not have a nut allergy, then nuts can also help to prevent chronic disease. They’re full of vitamins, mineral, fibre and healthy fats. In a study on 70,000 women and 42,500 men conducted by Dr. Ying Bao and colleagues, consumption of nuts was found to be inversely related to mortality, independent of other predictors of death. Inverse associations (the more nuts you eat the less disease you get) were seen for cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. Nuts are very high in calories so if you are looking to lose weight then be careful of your overall consumption. When I’m trying to decrease my fat before races I limit my intake to 8-10 nuts per day.

The primary benefit of eating a diet based mostly on plants is to increase the amount of vitamins, minerals and nutrients in your diet. These have anti-oxidant properties that help to keep you healthy. In technical terms anti-oxidant are substances that prevent the oxidation of an important biomolecules, such as a fatty acids, DNA, or proteins, by a reactive oxygen species. Excessive oxidation of molecules in the body can affect their structure and function. Think of this like when metal is exposed to oxygen in the air it can rust. You see this quickly if you’ve cut open an apple and left it exposed to air and seen the pulp turn brown. The scientific term for this process is oxidative stress. Anti-oxidants slow and minimize this process in our bodies.

One of the best best-known anti-oxidants is Vitamin C, but other vitamins such as the vitamin E family act as anti-oxidants. Foods that are high in vitamin C include bell peppers, guava fruit, leafy green vegetables, kiwi fruit, broccoli, berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, peas, and papayas. Foods high in vitamin E include tofu, spinach, nuts, seeds, avocado, shellfish, cold-water fish, plant oils (like olive oil), broccoli, and squash and pumpkin.

Foods that are high in flavonoids and carotenoids are also powerful anti-oxidants. Foods high in carotenoids include sweet potato, carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, squash, cantaloupe and melons, sweet red and yellow peppers, apricots, peas and broccoli.

The main message here is that plant based foods are our best defence against reactive oxygen species in our bodies. Fruits, vegetables, teas, coffee, spices and herbs are all great sources of anti-oxidants, and all of these have been related to lower risk of most chronic diseases and a lower risk of mortality. Research has shown a clear inverse relationship between increasing your fruit and vegetable intake and lower risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, asthma, COPD, dementia, osteoporosis, certain eye diseases, and weight gain. If you want to live a long, healthy life, eat mostly plants.

Today's POWER-UP: Learn some great vegetarian meals

Interested in eating more plant-based meals? Check out Rich Roll’s cookbook The Plant Powered Way for some terrific recipes. https://www.richroll.com/the-plantpower-way/

Another go-to cookbook in our family is Oh She Glows by Angela Lindon. http://ohsheglows.com/the-book/