A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that people who eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day live longer than those who don‘t. Dr. John Morley, a SLUCare geriatrician, is not surprised, and says the study only adds to the increasing amount of data supporting the value of fresh, whole foods as the basis of a healthy diet.

Morley points to previous research that indicates a diet rich in fruits and vegetables along with “not smoking, exercising, drinking a small amount of alcohol (one glass for women and two glasses for men) is a combination that shows a marked improvement in physiological function, as well as decreasing death.” He poses the next obvious question to himself: So why are fruits and vegetables good for you?

“Obviously, part of it is that you get all the vitamins and minerals that are buried, with few exceptions, in fruits and vegetables, particularly antioxidants,” Morley says. “There’s increasing evidence that if you take vitamins, they either do absolutely nothing for you or they’re actually not good for you, depending on the studies you want to look at.”

If vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables are so beneficial, why wouldn’t a supplement do the same amount of good? Morley responds, “I think when God put things together, She had insight to say, Gee-whiz, there’s a way that these are supposed to come in the right combination and the right format. The men who make vitamins are not nearly as good as God. At least, that’s the way I look at it.”

Jennifer Moffett, a clinical dietitian at SSM DePaul Health Center, agrees that eating your ‘five-a-day’ should be a dietary goal. “Whole plant foods contain healthy dietary antioxidants, and these plant compounds have anti-inflammatory properties which help to boost immune function to fight disease, may assist in memory function and possibly protect against some cancers,” she says. “Increasing fruit and vegetable intake is a defense against disease and possible early death.”

Further, both Morley and Moffett prefer consuming whole fruits and vegetables to juicing, primarily because whole foods retain more nutrients and fiber than their juice, are less calorie-dense, and take longer to consume, which promotes satiety.

All fruits and vegetables have nutritious components, but Moffett offers recommendations for some of the best choices across the color spectrum:

• reds/oranges: carrots, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe

• greens: broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts

• yellow: peppers, spaghetti squash, peaches

• blues/purple: eggplant, beets, grapes

• whites/browns: cauliflower, mushrooms

Additional advice includes:

• Incorporate more fruits and vegetables in the diet by combining them, as in adding pine-apple to a tomato salsa.

• Double up on vegetables at a meal in place of having extra starches.

• Substitute vegetables in place of extra meat portions, such as in a pasta sauce or meatloaf.

• Add vegetables to a one-dish meal or Crockpot.

However you choose produce and incorporate it into your diet, Morley stresses the importance of variety. “The secret is balance,” he says. “There’s no evidence saying there’s a huge difference between one (type of produce) over another, but there’s a lot of evidence for balance between all the fruits and vegetables.”