Fruits and vegetables are universally promoted as healthy. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend you make one-half of your plate fruits and vegetables. Myplate.gov also supports that one-half the plate should be fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables include a diverse group of plant foods that vary greatly in content of energy and nutrients. Additionally, fruits and vegetables supply dietary fiber, and fiber intake is linked to lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and obesity. Fruits and vegetables also supply vitamins and minerals to the diet and are sources of phytochemicals that function as antioxidants, phytoestrogens, and antiinflammatory agents and through other protective mechanisms. In this review, we describe the existing dietary guidance on intake of fruits and vegetables. We also review attempts to characterize fruits and vegetables into groups based on similar chemical structures and functions. Differences among fruits and vegetables in nutrient composition are detailed. We summarize the epidemiological and clinical studies on the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Finally, we discuss the role of fiber in fruits and vegetables in disease prevention.
Plant foods and health
Diets high in fruits and vegetables are widely recommended for their health-promoting properties. Fruits and vegetables have historically held a place in dietary guidance because of their concentrations of vitamins, especially vitamins C and A; minerals, especially electrolytes; and more recently phytochemicals, especially antioxidants. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are recommended as a source of dietary fiber.
Historically, the consumption of certain plant foods, fruits, vegetables, and legumes was thought to prevent or curve ailments ranging from headaches to heart disease (20). Early medicine revolved around the prescription of specific foods for certain disorders. Many of these plant foods are also high in dietary fiber and phytoestrogens, so the later hypotheses often were driven by fiber, carotenoids, phytoestrogens, or other plant chemicals. Of course, determining the relationship between any dietary component and health outcomes is difficult, because diet is a complicated exposure; each day we eat a variety of foods and nutrients and linking any particular food or nutrient to a health or disease outcome is limited.
The fiber hypothesis of the 1970s was driven by stories that populations who consumed high-fiber diets had little chronic disease (9). Although these stories were often entertaining, especially accounts of the large stools associated with these healthy, nomadic people, confounding variables were not considered at the time. Scientific estimates of the intake of fiber in these populations do not exist, although it is generally accepted that the diets were high in poorly digested carbohydrates.
Current scientific thinking demands a more evidence-based review of research support. In the hierarchy of evidence, randomized controlled trails are considered the strongest support for studying dietary risk factors and disease (21). For epidemiologic studies, prospective cohort studies are deemed the strongest study designs to examine diet and disease relationships. Cross-sectional and case-control studies are weaker epidemiologic study designs to determine diet and disease relationships. Intervention trials are strong support for these relationships, especially because in these smaller studies, it is possible to determine the biomarkers of interest in disease prevention.

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Diets high in fruits and vegetables are widely recommended for their health-promoting properties. Fruits and vegetables have historically held a place in dietary guidance because of their concentrations of vitamins, especially vitamins C and A; minerals, especially electrolytes; and more recently phytochemicals, especially antioxidants. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are recommended as a source of dietary fiber.