Islamabad : The importance of including fruits and vegetables in the diet is widely recognized as supporting a strong immune system, which in turn, helps ward off infection and illness. Although most Pakistanis, like citizens of other countries, view fruits and vegetables as integral to a healthy diet, they do not meet the national recommendations for intake.
Consultant nutritionist and Head of Clinical Nutrition Department at Shifa International Hospital Dr. Rezzan Khan flagged this issue during an interaction with this scribe here on Saturday. She said, the 2019 Pakistan Dietary Guidelines for Better Nutrition identify fruit and vegetables as foods to increase in the diet.
“The benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption are attributed to the wide range of nutrients, fiber, and phytochemicals they contain. Since these components vary among different fruit and vegetables, dietary guidance encourages regularly consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables to maximize potential health benefits. The iconic consumer message to ‘make half the plate fruit and veggies’ is intended to communicate recommendations for fruit and vegetables relative to other foods. One suggestion to increase fruit and vegetables intake, particularly vegetables, is to incorporate salads in meals, either as a side or main dish,” guided Dr. Rezzan, who is also in-charge of the Islamabad Chapter of Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetic Society.
Talking about benefits, the nutritionist said, adding a fresh vegetable salad is an easy dietary change to make. Dietary patterns that contain salads, including raw vegetables or salad dressing, can be an incentive for salad intake, have been associated with increased immunity, reduced risk for metabolic syndrome, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, some subtypes of breast cancer, cognitive impairment, and mortality. Likewise, typical salad vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables, have been associated with reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes and slower cognitive decline.
“Although both total vegetable and total fruit and vegetables intake have shown similar beneficial associations with health, it is notable that salads (or typical salad vegetables) have been specifically identified as components of favourable dietary patterns,” Dr. Rezzan maintained. She said, one cup of 100 percent vegetable juice may be considered a serving of vegetables but there is no evidence to suggest that starting the day with 16 ounces of juice on an empty stomach will cure disease, and key fibres required for good health are excluded by this practice. “For instance, cucumbers are available round the year in Pakistan. One cup of cucumber slices (with the peel) has about 15 calories and is a good source of Vitamin K. It contains about 95 percent water, which is good for hydration and satiety. The fermentation process creates beneficial probiotics, therefore pickled cucumber can also be added to salads but since they contain high sodium (salt), it is better to take pickled cucumbers in moderation,” she suggested.
Incorporating vegetable-based salad into one’s diet may be one effective way to increase nutrient intake and improve overall diet quality. Most Pakistanis prefer cooked vegetables over raw vegetables, use plenty of fat during cooking and like to stir-fry their vegetables. High heat kills many of the beneficial nutrients and vitamins, and the excessive fat intake encourages obesity and high cholesterol. “Change your taste to savour vegetables in their raw state and you’ll get all the benefits without the burden of excessive fats and weakened nutrients,” Dr. Rezzan added.
Additionally, Dr. Rezzan warned that while dressings add zest and flavor to salads, most of them are based on mayonnaise, which has a heavy oil component. “Enjoying a lighter dressing made of lemon juice, vinegar and a small amount of olive oil is better compared to most commercial salad dressings,” she concluded.