Because fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins (particularly vitamin C), minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants, they are vital for the healthy functioning of the body and for preventing disease.
Including several different fruits in the diet provides the widest range of vitamins and minerals and keeps the diet interesting. In order to gain the maximum nutritional benefit, fruits should be eaten fresh and raw with their skins on if possible.
Dark purple blackcurrants are one of the best sources of vitamin C, containing 200mg per 100g of fruit. They also contain flavonoids and useful amounts of vitamin A, calcium and potassium.
Also known as Chinese gooseberry, the kiwi fruit is an excellent source of vitamin C, providing 67mg per 100g of fruit. It also supplies potassium and calcium.
Oranges, lemons and grapefruits
All citrus fruits are composed of juicy segments that have a tart flavour. They are a very good source of vitamin C, potassium and flavonoids. Oranges contain 50mg of vitamin C per 100g; lemons and grapefruits contain 80mg and 40mg respectively.
An excellent source of vitamin C in comparison to other berry fruits, strawberries provide about 60mg of vitamin C per 100g. They also contain B vitamins, flavonoids and a small amount of folic acid.
Usually eaten alongside salad vegetables, tomatoes are botanically classified as a fruit. They are an excellent source of the antioxidants, vitamin E, lycopene and betacarotene, as well as vitamin C (60mg per 100g of fruit).
Although all types of melon are composed of around 90 per cent water, they are still a good source of potassium and vitamin C (cantaloupe and honeydew melons contain 25mg of vitamin C per 100g of fruit). Melons with deep orange pulp are an excellent source of vitamin A in the form of betacarotene.
These tropical fruits provide 25mg of vitamin C per 100g of fruit. They also contain potassium, magnesium, manganese and B vitamins.
Blackberries and raspberries
Blackberries contain 20mg of vitamin C per 100g of fruit; raspberries contain 25mg per 100g. These small, juicy berries also contain B vitamins and potassium. Purple and red berries are a particularly good source of flavonoids that act as antioxidants.
A rich source of potassium, bananas also contain iron, some B complex vitamins and vitamin C (10mg per 100g).
In contrast to other fruits, peaches provide a relatively modest amount of vitamin C (8mg per 100g).
Sweet cherries contain vitamins B and C (5mg per 100g, although sour cherries contain more). Their red-blue pigments act as antioxidants.
Apples and pears
The skin of apples and pears is rich in vitamin C and fibre. Pears contain 3mg of vitamin C per 100g of fruit; apples contain 5mg per 100g (the amount differs according to variety). Apples are a good source of flavonoids.
In general, grapes provide low to moderate amounts of vitamins and minerals, but grape skin is a good source of fibre. Grapes contain 4mg of vitamin C per 100g of fruit. Red and purple grapes contain flavonoids that act as antioxidants.
The fig is among the sweetest of all fruits. Because the fresh fruit ripens and rots quickly, figs are often eaten dried. They are a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and zinc. They also contain a moderate amount of B vitamins, figs contain 2mg of vitamin C per 100g of fruit.
Most vegetables are best eaten fresh and raw (if possible) or lightly cooked in order to minimize the destruction of their nutrients by the cooking process.
Sweet red, yellow, orange and green bell peppers are a very good source of vitamin C (about 140mg per 100g) and betacarotene. The red varieties have the highest vitamin A content.
Rich in vitamin C (140mg per 100g), broccoli is also a good source of the vitamins A and K, as well as fibre, beta-carotene and folic acid. The vitamin C and folic acid contained in broccoli are depleted if it is boiled.
This leafy vegetable contains 60mg of vitamin C per 100g. It is also a good source of vitamins A and E, B complex vitamins, calcium, potassium and folic acid.
The different varieties of cabbage are all rich in vitamin C (60mg per 100g) and in vitamin A. They also provide some vitamin K, potassium and calcium. Cabbage is best eaten raw – in coleslaw, for example – because the nutrients it contains are quickly depleted by cooking.
This cruciferous vegetable contains vitamin C (60mg per 100g) and vitamins A and K. It is also a good source of folic acid and potassium. The leaves of the cauliflower, which can also be eaten, contain moderate levels of manganese, calcium and betacarotene.
A good source of B vitamins and vitamins C (26 mg per 100g) and K, spinach is rich in antioxidants and also provides folic acid, potassium and protein. Although spinach has a high iron content, this is poorly absorbed by the digestive system.
All sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamin E; orange-fleshed varieties are also rich in betacarotene. They provide 23mg of vitamin C per 100g, and lose this vitamin less proportionally when cooked than many other vegetables.
Garden peas are usually treated as fresh vegetables, whereas dried peas, such as chickpeas and split peas, require long cooking times. Peas contain the vitamins A, C (16mg per 100g) and E and some B-complex vitamins. They also provide some fibre, calcium and iron. Most of the vitamin C content is lost if the peas are processed and canned.
Rich in vitamins A and C (15mg per 100g), pumpkins also provide significant levels of potassium and the antioxidant betacarotene.
Potatoes are rich in vitamin C (13mg per 100g) and fibre. One large baked potato provides one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of fibre, provided you eat the skin, which also contains magnesium. A medium-sized potato provides 20 per cent of the RDA of vitamin C; the vitamin C content is highest in new potatoes. Potatoes also contain some vitamin B6.
A rich source of vitamins A and C (6mg per 100g), carrots are also the richest common source of betacarotene. They also contain fibre. Unless organically grown, carrots should be peeled before use because they are particularly prone to absorbing chemical pesticide residues.