The holidays are gone and you are left with plenty of wonderful memories: time spent with your family and friends, sharing presents with your loved ones, lots of parties, and as part of all those gatherings, why not, memories of mouthwatering meals and desserts such as cakes, tarts, pies, pastries, chocolate, ice cream and cookies among others. However, as a new year begins, the thought of all those “goodies” you ate starts to make you a little uneasy because deep inside, you have a feeling they were not the healthiest foods for you. And you know you ate a lot of them!Don’t worry; it’s no good crying over spilt milk. It is true that these types of goods may contain large amounts of saturated fat and trans fats, a potential risk for your arteries, but what you want to do now is reverse gears and do some “damage control”. How? By eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables can decrease damage in your arteries

The biggest payoff of eating fruits and vegetables is for your arteries. The Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Studies followed up with about 110,000 men and women for 14 years. The results of the studies showed that compared with the people who ate less than 1.5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, those who ate 8 or more servings a day were 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke. The studies also showed that for every extra serving of fruit and vegetables participants added to their diets, their risk of heart disease dropped by 4 percent. The protective effect of fruits and vegetables was attributed to a category of compounds named phytochemicals.

What are phytochemicals?

The word “phyto” means “plant” in Greek. Phytochemicals are nonnutritive chemicals found in plant foods that protect their host plants from infections and microbial invasions. Recently, however, we have learned that phytochemicals are also crucial in protecting humans against disease. Researchers estimate there are more than 100 different phytochemicals in one serving of fruit or vegetables.

How can phytochemicals protect you?

Phytochemicals perform many functions in our bodies and are involved in many activities. They:

  • Act as antioxidants
  • Keep the walls of small blood vessels healthy
  • Make our small blood vessels stronger
  • Prevent platelets from becoming sticky and piling up
  • Block specific enzymes that raise blood pressure

Where can you find some of the main phytochemicals?

In every single fruit and vegetable. Here are some examples:

1) Carotenoids:Beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene.

These phytochemicals protect fat cells, blood, and other body fluids from assault by radicals. Carotenoids are the pigments responsible for the colors of many red, green, yellow, and orange found in fruits and vegetables. They are found in:

  • Apricots, cantaloupe, kiwifruit, mangoes, papayas
  • Pink grapefruit, watermelon, broccoli, carrots, kale, pumpkin, spinach
  • Sweet potatoes, winter squash, collard greens, corn, red peppers, romaine lettuce
  • Swiss chard, tomatoes

2) Flavonoids: Resveratrol, anthocyanin, quartering, hesperidin, tangeritin.

Flavonoids are one large family of protective antioxidants commonly seen in foods rich vitamin C. The activities of flavonoids in our bodies include:

  • Acting against inflammation, fighting free radicals, and preventing platelets from sticking together.
  • Blocking the enzymes (proteins that help biochemical reactions to happen) that raise blood pressure.
  • Protecting and strengthening small blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to all body cells.

Flavonoids are found in:

  • Apples, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, kiwifruit
  • Limes, oranges, grapefruit, pears, plums, red grapes
  • Tangerines, broccoli, garlic, kale, lettuce, onions

3) Ellagic Acid.

This phytochemical protect us by decreasing cholesterol levels. It also has potent antioxidant properties. It is found in:

  • Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries
  • Currants, kiwifruit, red grapes

4) Allium compounds.

Allium compounds protect the immune and cardiovascular system. The allelic sulfides in these plants are released when the plants are cut or smashed. They are found in:

  • Chives, garlic, leeks, onions, scallions

Final Thoughts

As you can see, fruits and vegetables are a must in keeping our arteries healthy. If you are looking for a New Year’s resolution, how about choosing this one: to eat three or more pieces of fruit and five portions of vegetables a day for the rest of the year. Even better, for the rest of your life.

Note: If you are diabetic do not exceed three pieces of fruit a day.

About the Author

Emilia Klapp is a Registered Dietitian. With her new book, “Your Heart Needs the Mediterranean Diet”, Emilia Klapp has helped many people just like you reduce the risk of heart disease and lose weight at the same time. For more information on the book and to receive a free especial report on the “Top 10 Mediterranean Curative Ingredients” go to: http://www.mediterraneanheart.com

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