When was the last time you ate a piece of raw fruit or a vegetable? If you have to think about it, it was too long ago. Our high-fat, fast food culture makes burgers and fries readily available day or night, but the food that will best fuel your body comes straight from nature. Five servings of fruits and vegetables every day are among the four keys to living longer, and the benefits do not stop there.

esearchers note that non-smoking people who have higher levels of vitamin C in their blood can improve their life expectancy. Healthy servings of fruits and vegetables raise these levels. A serving size varies depending on the type of food. One serving is a half cup of a chopped or cooked vegetable or vegetable juice. A serving of greens or other leafy vegetables is a full cup. For fruits, a medium-sized apple or banana is an appropriate serving, or you can drink one cup of fruit juice.

WebMD and the United States Department of Agriculture recommend four to five daily servings of both fruits and vegetables – approximately nine to ten servings altogether. If eating that much sounds impossible, WebMD has an excellent resource on “19 easy ways to get your 9 servings a day.” Also, open your mind and your grocery cart to fruits and vegetables that you have never tried before. For example, the citrus family has dozens of fruit types beyond the common orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit. Try a tangerine or mandarin. Let your taste buds explore new and interesting flavors.

The reason for eating better goes beyond living longer. Fruits and vegetables contain key nutrients that regulate your body and ward off disease. For example, to function properly, your cells need iron, which can be found in dried apricots. Bell peppers are good sources of vitamin C, a necessary nutrient that helps the body heal from cuts and wounds. For an extended list, go to Fruits & Veggies: More Matters.

“In addition, eating healthy will help keep your energy level up throughout the day and assist in achieving a better night’s sleep,” says Jamie Becker, the LHSFNA’s Associate Director of Health Promotion. “It will also help moderate your moods versus the emotional roller coaster that often comes with a diet full of saturated fats and refined carbohydrates – in other words, junk food.”

Before undertaking major changes in your eating habits, you should consult with your doctor. You may require more of some foods and less of others depending on your dietary needs. The Center for Disease Control has a food pyramid chart that you can personalize. Go to MyPyramid.gov. For more information on nutrition, order Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers online.

[Jennifer E. Jones]