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Published on September 13, 2016

For head-to-toe health, load up on these fruits and veggies

Fruits and vegetables are vital to good health.

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Fruits and vegetables are vital to good health.

By Joanna Hlavacek, Lawrence Journal World

Here, two registered dietitians — Linda Rippetoe, of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, and Mary Jo Mason, who serves as the in-house dietitian at Hy-Vee, 4000 W. Sixth St. — share their expertise on which fruits and veggies to eat for head-to-toe health.

Brain: The benefits of Omega 3 on the brain, Mason says, are widespread — the fatty acid has been credited in some studies with protecting against depression and dementia. Luckily, avocados are loaded with the stuff. Rippetoe also recommends blueberries. The antioxidant-rich super-food is known to boost brainpower and may strengthen the brain’s defenses in fighting dementia, according to researchers at the University of Cincinnati.

Eyes: When it comes to vision, keep your eyes (pun intended) on vegetables rich in lutein, suggests Rippetoe. Dark greens such as kale, spinach, collards and turnip greens are all packed with the carotenoid. (Also good options: broccoli, corn, peas and green beans.) Foods with high levels of lutein have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration among them, according to the American Optometric Association.

Skin: Stock up on fruits packed with vitamin C, Mason suggests. Found in tropical fruits such as guava, kiwi, papaya and citrus varieties, vitamin C has been linked in studies with UV protection and guarding skin against dryness and wrinkles.

Joints: Cherries and tart cherry juice have long been known to reduce joint inflammation, Rippetoe says, making the fruit an excellent snack for those suffering from arthritis and back pain. On Mason’s anti-inflammatory list: avocados, garlic, leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards and the like) and berries of all kinds.

Heart: We’re often told that red foods are most effective in boosting heart health, says Mason. And while that idea “makes sense,” she says, “most of us don’t get enough blue and purple fruits and veggies.” Grapes, for instance, are packed with resveratrol, which researchers have said maintains a healthy blood flow. Mason also recommends purple cabbage, onions, potatoes and carrots.

A recent Dutch study found that adherence to the DASH diet (the low-sodium plan emphasizes large portions of fruits and veggies) significantly reduces risk of stroke and heart disease, says Rippetoe, who suggests loading up on pears, apples and cucumbers.

Gastrointestinal tract: To keep your gut healthy, look to fermented foods such as sauerkraut (Mason recommends the jar variety as opposed to bagged or canned), kimchi and pickles, which have all been shown to boost levels of “good” bacteria (i.e., probiotics) in the digestive tract.

Of course, when all else fails, there’s always the old “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” adage, says Rippetoe. The all-American fruit has been shown in recent years to protect against everything from cardiovascular disease to cancer. It also may keep the dentist away, too — apples’ high water content increases saliva, helping to clear out harmful bacteria in our mouths and prevent cavities.

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