Are Some Fruits and Vegetables “Better” for You Than Others?


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Fruits and vegetables are highly nutritious and yet are often lacking in our modern diets due to the increased consumption of ultra-processed packaged goods and fast food. Consuming fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis has been linked with numerous health benefits including a healthier gut microbiome, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, improved blood sugar and overall digestive health.

While all fruits and vegetables offer different vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols, making it a good idea to consume a wide range of different options, there are some types that may offer more health benefits than others. For example, leafy greens such as spinach, mustard greens and kale have been associated with the largest decrease in risk of major chronic disease.

Citrus fruits are often associated with a high vitamin C content, typically known for its immune boosting benefits. Many vegetables like red bell pepper and broccoli, however, actually contain more vitamin C than an orange along with higher levels of fiber and other nutrients.

Fiber is one of the key components of fruits and vegetables that lends to so many of their benefits. Since our bodies are unable to digest fiber, it can actually be thought of more so as food for our gut microbiome. When the bacteria in our guts consume fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids which effectively alters our gut-brain communication and brain function. These short-chain fatty acids have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antitumorigenic, and antimicrobial effects.

Cruciferous vegetables in particular are highly revered for their high fiber content and health promoting nutrients. These vegetables, like arugula, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage, are rich in glucosinolates, compounds linked with reduced rates of cancer due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

Sulforaphane glucosinolate, found largely in broccoli, specifically displays anticarcinogenic properties due to its ability to induce phase II detoxification enzymes. Consequently, consumption of sulforaphane containing foods can protect against toxins and carcinogens. In order to boost the sulforaphane content of your meal, try chopping your cruciferous vegetables ahead of time and letting them sit for 30 minutes before cooking. This will allow them to retain a larger amount of the beneficial compound. You can also increase the availability by seasoning cooked veggies with a dash of mustard seed powder!

Among the beneficial compounds found in fruits and vegetables, polyphenols with antioxidant properties are one of the most commonly known, and for good reason. Consuming polyphenol rich foods has been demonstrated to have beneficial effects not only on the gut microbiome, but also on the brain and cardiovascular function. Recent large scale intervention studies with one such polyphenol compound, flavanol, have shown protective effects against cognitive decline and cardiovascular mortality. One mechanism that has been shown to underlie such health benefits in preclinical studies are the antioxidant effects of such phytochemicals, protecting cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Oxidative stress leads to cell damage, which can inevitably cause chronic health issues such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Wild blueberries are one of the richest sources of polyphenols, along with many other berries including cranberries.

Berries are often thought of as a superfood not only because of their high antioxidant content, but because of their low sugar content as well. These fruits are nutrient dense and have less of a potential for causing blood sugar spikes due to their low glycemic index. The low risk of berries raising blood sugar levels makes them a great option for those struggling with insulin resistance and diabetes. Lower sugar fruits may also be beneficial for those seeking to lose weight, as avoiding blood sugar spikes, and subsequent insulin spikes, can help to prevent excess fat storage in the body.

Some fruits higher in sugar like bananas, grapes and tropical fruits have their own health benefits, however. Bananas, for example, are high in potassium, a mineral necessary for maintaining healthy blood pressure and electrolyte balance. When comparing options, other fruits like avocados have about the same amount of potassium, if not slightly more, along with healthy fats that improve nutrient absorption.

It is difficult to say that there are any fruits and vegetables that are better for you than others as they all tend to offer general health benefits. Since they contain so many different vitamins and minerals, it is advised to consume a wide range in order to obtain adequate nutrients and promote gut microbiome diversity. Try to eat meals throughout the day that vary in color as this is a good indicator of the presence of different polyphenols and phytonutrients. Focusing on eating the rainbow can have profound benefits on overall health, both physically and mentally.

Fiona Riddle Fiona is a Certified Health Coach with a degree in Psychology from UCLA. She is passionate about a holistic approach to health when working with her private coaching clients. She is an avid cook, constantly creating and sharing new recipes on her Instagram (@feelgoodwithfi) to showcase simple clean home cooking.

This article was reviewed and approved by Emeran Mayer, MD