Boost your vegetable consumption to protect your heart, fight cancer, and aid a host of health conditions as you age.

3 Ways Vegetables Might Help You Live Longer

Health experts keep telling you to eat more vegetables. And you may already know that adding vegetables to your diet is one of the best ways to lose weight. But did you know that the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber in fruits and vegetables can keep you healthy as you age? Here are three of the top health benefits vegetables provide.

1. A Healthy Heart. Heart disease is the nation’s number one killer. But studies conclude that a diet rich in produce can help keep cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels, while also reducing inflammation and keeping your arteries clear.  The antioxidant power of fruits and vegetables also can reduce risk of coronary events like stroke and deep vein thrombosis (which are blood clots that can be fatal). In fact, you’re about 17 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke if you have five or more servings of vegetables a day.

2. Protection from Cancer. The produce aisle is also your secret weapon against cancer.  Tomatoes are high in lycopene, a powerhouse antioxidant that blocks the cancer-causing action of free radicals. People who eat lycopene-rich diets have been found to have fewer cases of prostate, lung, and digestive cancers. Research shows broccoli can keep prostate and colon tumors at bay, while vegetables (and fruits) high in vitamin C may guard against stomach, esophagus, and mouth cancers. Plus the antioxidants may help slow the damage from free radicals that cause macular degeneration and cognitive decline.

3. Digestive Health. Leafy greens, beans and legumes, and many other vegetables are high in dietary fiber, which includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Insoluble fiber helps regulate digestion, protects intestinal health, and aids weight control by enhancing the feeling of fullness. Soluble fiber buffers absorption of low-density lipoproteins (“bad” cholesterol) and reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart disease. By slowing the release of sugars, fiber also lowers your risk of diabetes, which tends to be linked with metabolic syndrome. Beans and legumes are also full of iron, antioxidants, and B vitamins, which boost energy, protect against stress, and keep your immune system strong.

A few ways to boost your veggie intake:

• Put away the peeler:  The outer layers of apricots, peaches, cucumbers, zucchini, beets, eggplant, and potatoes are packed with fiber, so eat the skin. 

• Green your snacks: Snack on snap peas, edamame, and green beans, all delicious when eaten plain or salted. Hummus, made from garbanzo beans, is the perfect high-protein, high-fiber dip or spread – and you can make a similar paste from fava beans with even more antioxidant power.

• Don’t neglect berries: Did you know that a cup of raspberries or blackberries provides as much fiber as four slices of whole wheat bread, thanks to   the tiny seeds packed inside? Eat berries by themselves, or toss them into cereal, muffins, or yogurt. 

• Boost flavor with citrus:  Squeeze fresh lemon on salads and fish, cook with it (lemon chicken!) and try adding lemon juice to your water bottle in the morning. (Include as much pulp as possible.) Add orange or grapefruit slices to salads and grain dishes, or eat them plain. A half grapefruit sweetened with a dash of honey is a great way to start your day!

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.